Internships in the workplace


Providing internships can benefit companies in a number of different ways. It can be a method of finding new employees. It can provide a company with a new, fresh perspective, and it can also act as a way of giving back to the community.

That being said, it can be a tricky area to negotiate. It’s important that a company intending to take on an intern is aware of intern rights, the best practices to follow and the consequences of not following the rules.

It may all seem a little bit complicated right now, but bear with us and read on. Who knows, soon you may have your own group of wide-eyed, eager interns join your team…

What is an internship?

Internships are a form of work experience provided by companies to, typically students and graduates, and these days, they’re pretty indispensable.

Lasting from around a couple of weeks, to up to two years, interns will have a range of responsibilities. It’s not just fetching lunchtime sandwiches, and organising files. Depending on the company, an intern can be involved in everything from event handling to pitching ideas in the boardroom.

While it is not a legal concept, there are primarily two categories of internships, paid and voluntary, each with their own legal obligations.

To be classified as a worker and benefit from the National Minimum Wage (NMW), as well as other workplace benefits and protections, an intern must have a legally binding contract with an organisation. This can be either oral or written. Additionally, the intern must also show that they are providing a personal service to the organisation or company and that there is mutuality of obligation.

Meanwhile, those who take on a volunteer internship give their time freely, rather than being under contract. A volunteer internship will also often involve the intern working to gain knowledge and experience, as well as working to benefit others, typically in a charitable manner.

What are interns entitled to?

In line with the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, if an intern is classified a worker, or is promised a work contract in the future, they are entitled to the NMW.

However, there are some circumstances where an intern is not entitled to the NMW. This includes situations where an intern is required to take on an internship in conjunction with their UK-based higher education course.

Equally, internships that are undertaken with a charity or voluntary organisation, which have limited expenses will also not be paid the NMW.

Finally, if an intern does not actually perform any of the work undertaken by the company, and simply shadows other workers in the workplace, they are not required to be paid the NMW.

Those interns who are considered workers, are also entitled to minimum daily and weekly breaks, as well as maximum working hours, and paid holiday, in line with the Working Time Regulations 1998.

Additionally, regardless of their employment status, all interns’ data will be protected under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 1998.

Best practices to follow

While there are bare-minimum statutory requirements that must be followed, when it comes to internships, it’s always best for a company to go the extra mile. This will benefit both the intern and the employer.

The culture is definitely changing when it comes to internships and what is expected from them. No longer is it acceptable to use internships as a way to access free labour.

Equally, companies who provide internship programmes that are below par, are likely to gain a bad reputation. So, it’s best to organise internship programmes that are beneficial to both the intern and the company. After all, companies can learn a lot from those who are new to a sector!

In association with this, it’s important that companies advertise in many different ways and places. Casting a wide net, means that a company is more likely to discover interns that are the right fit for them.

Here, there is also the issue of accessibility. It’s a well known fact that many internships are landed by those fortunate few who have contacts, meaning that the talent of those less privileged goes unnoticed. This is why it is important that companies provide paid internships, so that candidates from a variety of backgrounds have a chance to break into different sectors.

Creating a rigorous interview process will also help companies ensure that the interns they take on are up to scratch and passionate about the industry and the company.

Moreover, the majority of people who seek out internships are new to the work world, so it’s a particularly good idea to look out for transferable skills, and potential. This will prevent companies from overlooking talented individuals, just because they don’t have years of experience.

When it comes to constructing internship programmes, it’s also vital that companies create tasks that are industry related. This way interns can gain exposure to what it’s like to work in a particular sector, and understand what will be expected of them.

Additionally, to ensure that interns start off on the right foot, including an orientation at the beginning of a programme will help interns feel comfortable and confident. This should include details on company policy and ethics, as well as what is expected of them during the programme. On top of this, it’s key that companies encourage interns to get as involved as possible, and not shy away from engaging.

Interns will also need directing, so it’s essential to allocate a manager to mentor interns on the company’s programme. They will get the most out of their internship if they are given guidance and feedback, so it’s important to give them constructive criticism, as well as highlight what they have done well.

The consequences of not following the rules

When it comes to taking on interns, it doesn’t pay to bend the rules. In fact, companies that do will find themselves faced with fines.

Failing to pay an intern, when they are classified as a worker, is illegal, and while companies may have been able to dodge the bullet a few years ago, that’s not the case anymore. If an intern reports a company to HMRC for failure to deliver pay, the company will receive a penalty.

As of February 2014, fines for companies who fail to pay their workers the NMW, increased from £5,000 to up to £20,000. Pretty hefty, right? On top of this, in accordance with the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, non-compliance will lead to a maximum £20,000 penalty for each worker!

Final thoughts

So, if your company is thinking about introducing an internship programme, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.

Done well, internships can be a way for companies to learn from their interns, and for interns to gain valuable experience and insight into a particular sector.

And, remember, discovering new talent through an internship could lead to your company taking on an intern full-time. And, with ideas and enthusiasm bursting at the seams, that new employee could end up helping your company take things to the next level.

Article Created By Madaline Dunn

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