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Your rights as an intern and how to protect them

Posted on 7/11/2014 by

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An internship is a great boost if you aspire to a particular career.  You can get a feel for the work, strengthen your CV, and make contacts in the sector. Unfortunately interns are sometimes exploited and faced with unacceptable working conditions. As a charity intern you could be particularly vulnerable to this due to your personal motivation as well as the particular importance of internships for charity work. Here we outline the employment law rights of interns and what to do if they are breached.

Are you a “worker”?

Any decent internship will involve some hard work but the legal definition of a “worker” is a different matter. Legally, you are a worker if you do work that adds value and have a contractual obligation to do the internship, in the same way as you would a normal job. If the internship mainly involves job shadowing and doing supervised tasks for your experience and training, you are probably not a worker. In this case you have no legal obligation to the charity and are free to come and go as you please (although there is nothing to stop them cancelling the internship if you are not diligent about working hours).

The rights of workers

Some of the main rights of workers are:

  • You must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage, even if you agree otherwise
  • You are protected by the Working Time Regulations 1998. These state that you cannot work more than an average of 48 hours per week (although you can “opt out” of this if you agree) and that you must have rest breaks at specified intervals
  • Under the Equality Act 2010, you cannot normally be discriminated against (for example by being paid less or prevented from experiencing certain kinds of work) because of characteristics like your age, sex, sexuality, race, or religion

The rights of other interns

The majority of interns who are not classified as workers still have some legal protection. Legislation on health and safety in the workplace applies to you and the charity has a duty to take reasonable steps to protect you from risks in this respect. In addition, they must follow the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 when dealing with your personal data. They must keep the data secure and delete it when it is no longer needed, and not use it for any inappropriate purposes.

One crucial aspect to look out for is whether your employer is trying to class you as a volunteer. In the charity sector this removes your right to the National Minimum Wage, but you are still entitled to holiday and to not be discriminated against.

Protecting your rights

You do need to ensure that the charity doesn’t play on your sense of duty to get away with treating you unfairly. If you feel that the charity or organisation you are interning with is not abiding by your legal rights the first step is to mention this discretely to your supervisor or HR. The vast majority of charities are eager to provide a positive experience for interns as well as to comply with their duties under employment law. In the unlikely event that this approach does not resolve matters you could get help from an external body, like a trade union or workforce representative, or Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). In extreme cases it might be necessary to initiate legal action to enforce your rights or get compensation but in this case you should always take advice from a solicitor.

If you’d like to learn more about internships and what to do if you think you’re not being treated right in the work place, visit Contact Law by clicking the logo to find out more: