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The dangers of internship

The dangers of internship

As the summer draws to a close and interns go back to college, it's worth highlighting a potential problem with the internship concept.

The pure form of internship does not involve any payment (save perhaps for expenses) and is focussed wholly on learning and work experience rather than the provision of any services to the business.  In that form where any work is voluntary, the intern does not acquire any employment rights and it is even questionable whether a contract of any sort exists; either party can walk away at will.

The problem arises where the business pays the intern, who in return performs services.  Internships are sometimes also lengthy, extending beyond the summer months.  In that form, it can be said that the relationship is no different to an employment relationship.  And as such, the intern could argue that they acquire employment rights and are entitled to statutory sick pay and holidays.  In the unlikely event that the internship lasts for 2 years, they would also acquire unfair dismissal rights.  If you are paying an intern, you must also comply with the National Minimum Wage and Living Wage obligations.

So when preparing an internship agreement, it is important to stress the voluntary and learning dimension and to set out what is intended in relation to the intern's development.  But however we dress up the situation, there is always the danger that a tribunal could find that the intern is an employee being paid for the provision of services and that the learning aspect is incidental to that.  As ever, when we are considering the thorny employment status issue, the contract is only the start of the analysis.

For specific advice on Employment law, please contact Joint Senior Partner and Head of Employment, Richard Gvero, on 01992 300333 or


Please note the contents of this blog are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances. 


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