Definition of work experience and internships for the minimum wage

If you or your business offers work experience, including ‘placements’ and internships, you need to consider whether the individual who will work for you is entitled to the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage.

It is your responsibility as the employer to determine whether or not the individual is a worker for minimum wage purposes and, if they are, whether an exemption applies to them.

Failure to pay the minimum wage to someone who is entitled to it is against the law. If an unpaid individual claims that they are owed arrears of the minimum wage, the onus is on you, the employer, to prove that they are not a worker or that no arrears are owed. An individual’s entitlement to it does not depend on their job title but on the contractual relationship with their employer.

This guide will help you determine if an individual on an internship or work experience is entitled to the minimum wage.

What is work experience?

The term ‘work experience’ generally refers to a specified period of time that an individual spends with your business – during which they have an opportunity to learn directly about working life and the working environment.

Some work experience positions offer people the chance to try their hand at particular tasks, others simply provide an opportunity to watch and learn. The nature, length and arrangements for work experience vary greatly and an individual’s entitlement to the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage will depend on whether the work experience offered makes the individual a worker for minimum wage purposes.

For more information, see National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage checklist.

What counts as an internship?

Work experience is sometimes referred to as a ‘placement’ or an ‘internship’. In common usage, internships are sometimes understood to be positions requiring a higher level of qualification at the outset than other forms of work experience and are associated with gaining experience for a professional career.

However, the term ‘intern’ has no legal status under minimum wage law and entitlement to the minimum wage does not depend on what someone is called, the type of work they do, how the work is described (eg ‘unpaid’ or ‘expenses only’) or the profession or sector they work in.

What matters is whether the agreement or arrangement they have with you makes them a worker for minimum wage purposes.

Some forms of work experience, including placements and internships, may be referred to as ‘unpaid work’ or ‘expenses only’, where an individual gives their services free of charge in order to develop or maintain their skills. If you offer such a position you should check if the individual is a volunteer for minimum wage purposes or if an exemption applies.

For more information, see National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage – volunteers and voluntary workers or exemptions within minimum wage legislation relevant to work experience.

If the individual is not a genuine volunteer and is not exempt, then you must pay them at least the minimum wage.

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