Interns – cheap labour or problem in the making?

With a rising level of graduates looking to gain work experience and a tighter economic climate many firms in the region may be looking at taking on interns or volunteers.  But a Roythornes Solicitors has warned that it may not be as easy as it first seems.

Whilst the subject of interns hit the national headlines over the summer, the announcement of A level results last week and the scramble for university places will again raise the subject of students looking to gain unpaid work experience to help their future careers.

Phil Cookson, employment specialist at city based Roythornes, said this was a grey area, but one where companies could easily become unstuck.

 “In the past firm probably just took people on and paid them a token salary, but there are a number of grey areas where firms could fall foul of the legislation.  Much depends on the definition of what they are doing and this can then have an impact on whether they are entitled to the minimum wage and other benefits.

 The overall message is that employers must not form a contract of employment by default, and there are a number of ways in which this can be avoided including avoiding making payments that could be construed as wages, limiting the perks of the job and reducing the obligations on behalf of the volunteer or intern.”

 Phil went on to say that the best way to solve the situation is  to have an volunteer agreement or internship agreement that clearly sets out the status of the individual, what they are expected to do and what they will get in return.

 “Like most situations relating to employment law, it is always best to have things in writing and having an agreement clearly setting out the relationship between the employer and the intern will help to ensure that mistakes are not made.”