These are the basic rights most interns don’t know about

Internships are as almost an unwritten rule the standard point of entry into the the workforce for many university leavers in the UK. In Business and Finance departments its difficult to be accepted into a permanent role without some work experience in the relevant industry to your name

In a recent interview with HR Review Dupsy Abiola spoke about the conundrum of unpaid internships:

Unpaid internships are in many cases illegal and are actually dangerous for the employer. YouGov, a couple of years ago, found that 88 percent of line managers are not aware that unpaid internships are actually illegal in this country because of national minimum wage laws and they were simply unaware of what the rules where. I am sure that there are quite a few companies that are trying to supply unpaid graduates working for six or twelve months at a time either for free or earning expenses only and some of these individuals are working for free during the week for nothing and are working all weekend and in the evening in order to make ends meet. That is an awful state of affairs.

The case is clear for young graduates and students looking to gain experience – you really should be getting paid.

As internships tend to fall in a grey area of employment, with both employers and interns often in the dark about legal rights surrounding their work, we thought we’d clarify some of the rules if you want to work as an intern for a company:


Of course! Nearly all legal workers in the UK are granted basic employment rights – although these aren’t very extensive and still leave you unprotected in certain situations. You have the right to a safe working environment, data protection rights, protection against discrimination, and the right to join a union.

Under law, you also have the right to:

  • Pay at the National Minimum Wage rate
  • Protection from unlawful deductions
  • 28 days’ holiday for a full year worked
  • Rest breaks, including 20 minutes’ rest every six hours worked
  • The right not to work more than 48 hours per week

Regardless of the way a role is advertised, it is the work you actually do for a company or organisation that defines what kind of worker you are.

There are very few instances where an intern is not considered a worker and is not protected by the laws surrounding worker rights. This includes student internships, where students complete an internship for less than one year as part of a UK-based further or higher education course.

Work experience placements where students of compulsory school age, ie under 16,  are also another instance where there isn’s an entitlement to the minimum wage.

Voluntary workers are another category where minimal wage is exempt, dependent on two factors:

a) You are working for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund raising body or a statutory body

b) You don’t get paid, except for limited benefits (such as travel and lunch expenses)

Some interns who perform regular paid work for an employer under a contract, are actually considered employees rather than workers. If this is the case, you’ll benefit from a larger range of employment rights which include:

  • Unfair dismissal
  • Redundancy rights
  • Family-friendly rights

It’s important to remember an employer can not deprive you of your rights merely by simply describing you as an intern. Legal protections and benefits are dependent on what happens in practice in your workplace, who decides what you do and what you are expected to do by your employer.

The past five years has seen a dramatic decline in the amount of paid internships being advertised, but many companies still promote unpaid roles – either unaware of the legal status of Interns, or aware yet resolved on sourcing free labour to help with the workload. There are hopes with further awareness, and an intent from all involved in the employment process to eradicate

Fair pay for interns work is one of the core values of Intern Avenue. Our platform is free, and only lists quality, paid opportunities sign up HERE.

For more information on rights for Interns, visit the government info page HERE.

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