Should you be paying your interns?

Wednesday July 31, 2019

Summer’s here, and along with the sunshine will come summer interns for many businesses around Ireland. But how should you pay them? Do you need to pay them at all?

In order to know whether you need to be paying interns, you first need to establish the type of internship that you have advertised. This is because the term “intern” in isolation does not provide you with the answer. Depending on the type of internship you are offering, the intern could be entitled to pay and further rights.

What is an internship?

Almost everyone has heard of internships. Perhaps you have even been an intern at some point in your life. But a varied approach to the employment practice over the years has skewed the definition for some. If your own internship was based on tidying up, taking lunch orders and not getting paid, you could be forgiven for thinking that’s normal.

An internship is a fixed period of work experience. It is typically of interest to students, graduates or those seeking a career change. It should provide an insight into a specific field or industry and typically offers on-the-job training. If an intern has performed well during their internship, you may wish to offer them a contract of permanent employment when the internship ends.

An internship is not intended to be used to increase labour or resource by means of little to no budget. A falsely advertised and poorly implemented internship is exploitative and illegal.

Even with the above explanation, we know that employment relationships can be confusing. So to make sure you remain on the right side of employment law, we recommend a refresh on the rules for offering internships at your business.

When an intern should be paid

Each case must be considered in isolation but there are key identifiers that establish if the internship should be paid.

If the intern is carrying out productive work that benefits your business, they have likely entered into an employment relationship with you and will be entitled to the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and other benefits. This is especially true if they are expected to do so for an increased period of time.

Exceptions to paid internships

Whilst most internships these days will qualify for NMW, there are some exceptions. For example, those on government internships and students partaking in work-experience schemes as part of a course do not have to be paid. The student needs to be in full-time education for this to apply.

Although in this instance pay is not a legal requirement, we believe it to be a good incentive.

Other types of internships that don’t require pay include voluntary workers for a charity or fundraising body, and those who partake in shadow work which is for observation purposes only. If the intern is truly a volunteer they will have agreed to work for free and be able to come and go as they please. It has been known for employers to call a worker a volunteer. But be warned, incorrect classification is illegal and comes with the risk of imprisonment.

Do interns need a contract?

We believe it is best practice to have a contract for each person who works for your business, including interns. This is because a professionally drafted contract sets out the employment status and entitlements.

Additionally, contracts are a great way to communicate rules and expectations to workers. If any questions or doubts arise, they should do so before work begins.

If you’re preparing for an intern this summer and have some questions about the process, contact your local HR Dept today. We’ll help you legally recruit your new hire and advise on a comprehensive induction and training plan that is unique to your business.

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