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What is an internship?

Many businesses offer internship programmes (also known as ‘work placements‘ or ‘work experience’) that are designed to provide work experience (generally to graduates or undergraduates) and are also a way for the employer to get to know potential future recruits.

Interns (ie those taking part in an internship) often need to go through a selection process to achieve a placement that might last anything from a few weeks over the summer holidays (known as a ‘summer internship’), to an entire year as a sandwich placement during their university or college course.

Internships can provide benefits for both the interns themselves and the business taking them on. Some benefits are that:

  • students can learn more about a particular industry or profession and enhance their skills

  • prospective job seekers will experience a working environment and can develop networking skills

  • employers can meet new potential recruits and also receive the benefits of a flexible workforce (eg to compensate for colleagues on holiday over the summer months)

What is the minimum wage for interns?

There is currently no specific minimum wage for interns. Whether they are legally entitled to a salary will depend upon their employment status:

  • volunteers - interns who work on a voluntary basis are not entitled to any wage. For further information, read Working as a volunteer

  • workers - if an intern is promised a contract of future work they will be classed as a worker and be entitled to the National Minimum Wage (NMW). For further information, read Minimum wage

  • employees - an intern who does regular paid work for an employer may qualify as an employee, in which case they will be entitled to the NMW and other employment law rights

The following types of interns do not qualify for the NMW:

  • student interns who are completing an internship as a requirement of a UK-based further or higher education course (eg sandwich placements)

  • work experience students who have not reached the school leaving age (generally the end of the school year once someone has turned 16). For further information, read Child employment

  • voluntary workers who work for a charity or voluntary organisation and do not get paid (other than reasonable expenses)

  • students who are merely work shadowing (ie observing rather than carrying out any work themselves)

If an intern is entitled to the NMW, the minimum hourly pay will depend on their age.

What other employment rights do interns have?

As with the NMW, any employment law rights for interns will depend upon their employment status. If they are classified as an employee, they will be entitled to:

If they are classified as a worker, they will be entitled to many of the same rights as employees, except for:

  • unfair dismissal protection

  • right to request flexible working

  • statutory redundancy pay

  • minimum notice periods

  • time off for emergencies

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