The Real ROI of Unpaid Internships


So you’re looking to hire an intern to get some fresh eyes on a side of your business that’s been neglected recently (see our recent post about the benefits of hiring a content writing intern) or to help out with the extra workload and tackle the odd jobs that have been piling up? The best part is you could get all this done for free right? Because unpaid internships are still a thing right? Well… Wrong.

As per InternAware, the nationwide campaign to root out unpaid internships: Under employment law, people who work set hours, do set tasks and contribute value to an organisation are “workers” and are entitled to the minimum wage. This means even if your internship was just about being expected to turn up at a certain time and add some numbers in Excel you are likely to be entitled to pay. And as it is impossible to sign away your rights, even if you have agreed to work without pay you can still claim. Every time an intern has taken their employer to court for not being paid the minimum wage they have won.

InternAware also makes the very valid point that when choosing between an unpaid internship in their chosen field and working at a bar that pays minimum wage, sometimes even the most committed and/or talented candidates may chose the latter option. This holds particularly true for an internship in London where a 3-month stint in the nation’s capital can cost as much as £3,000 for a visitor to live and work – a burden not many are willing to take on. In light of such facts, the government has been cracking down on companies that are being termed ‘minimum wage cheats’. In 2013, the HMRC forced nine firms to hand over £192,808 in back pay to 167 aggrieved interns. Following an announcement from David Cameron, the maximum fine an employer can face went up from £5,000 to £20,000 in Februrary 2014. In fact Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has said that he would like the fine to apply to each individual underpaying employer!

Aside from the direct or indirect (lawyer fees, time lost) impact of a fine, there’s the negative publicity to worry about. Consider the following recent articles naming and shaming those who haven’t paid their interns:

You don’t want your company’s name in that dubious list. The old adage of ‘no publicity, is bad publicity’ needs to be considered in the light of the modern phenomenon of instant and almost unrestricted information access. Remember that ‘Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair!’ Hire a top-notch intern, reap the benefits. Intern Avenue – the country’s premier directory for interns seeking paid internships.

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