Why is it so hard to tell if an internship is illegal?
Laws surrounding internships are still very complicated. One of the reasons for this, is that the terms internships, interns, work placements and work experience currently have no legal status attached to them. They can only be judged on this basis when the role relates to terms recognised by law; these terms include ‘worker’ (must be paid), volunteer (an unpaid position) or employee (must be paid).
In most cases, interns are classified in legal terms by a company as a ‘worker’ (sometimes also referred to in a contract as a ‘freelancer’). This entails having a contract – either written or verbal – having set hours and responsibilities, and being required to turn up even if you don’t want to. You can usually find out if you’re referred to as a worker or freelancer by checking your contract, or asking the employer.
What qualifies as an illegal internship?
Being able to tell whether an internship without pay is legal can be tricky if you’re not a legal expert. But in general, if a company that considers you a ‘worker’ while interning, and you’re not a student, it should be paid. Therefore, the experience is likely to be illegal if:
• It’s completely unpaid
• It only offers expenses
• It pays less than the minimum wage
Is an unpaid internship illegal if you’re a student?
This is one of the exceptions to the rule. If you’re interning as a student, the above won’t necessarily classify as illegal. According to Gov.uk, a student internship can be unpaid if it’s endorsed by the university or college as being useful to coursework. Other exceptions include when you are simply shadowing someone without tasks of your own, or volunteering for a charitable organisation.