Employing interns

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Employment rights and pay for interns


Managed well, internship can be a win-win situation:
A graduate gets some solid work experience to put on their CV. They also get the chance to develop knowledge of their chosen profession and to make some valuable contacts in their sector.
For employers, the business gets extra help to take on or contribute to a particular project, which would otherwise remain on the to-do list.
The employment status will determine which rights the intern has:
  • worker
  • volunteer
  • employee
Employment status
A person is generally classed as a ‘worker’ if:
  • they have a contract or other arrangement to do work or services personally for a reward 
  • their reward is for money or a benefit in kind, for example the promise of a contract or future work
  • further listed conditions which would define a worker
An employee is a worker, but with extra employment rights and responsibilities that don’t apply to workers who aren’t employees:
Volunteer do not have a contract of employment, so they do not have the same rights as an employee or worker. Whilst not mandatory, it is good practice to give volunteer a “volunteer agreement” which sets out:
  • the level of supervision and support given
  • what training will be offered
  • whether volunteers are covered under the organisation’s employer or public liability insurance
  • health and safety issues
  • any expenses the organisation will cover
Right to the minimum wage:
An intern is entitled to the National Minimum Wage if they count as a worker. If an intern does regular paid work for an employer, they may qualify as an employee and be eligible for employment rights.
Additionally, an intern is classed as a worker and is due the National Minimum Wage if they’re promised a contract of future work.
When the minimum wage does not apply to interns:
  • Students required to do an internship for less than one year as part of a UK-based further or higher education course 
  • Work experience students of compulsory school age (e.g under 16)
  • Volunteer work
  • Work shadowing (following an employee to learn, but the work is carried out by the employee)



Disclaimer: this article is only intended as an overview of the legislation. You must always check directly with HMRC, ACAS or your own legal consultant for further information.