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Your Employment Rights as an Intern

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Who is an Intern?

Intern Aware says that a paid internship is usually a short-term period of employment aimed at providing you with professional skills and experience. It is different from a work shadowing scheme where you only observe other people working, and different from volunteering where you choose to give up your time to help a cause or a company [ Making internships work: an interns guide].

You should be treated with exactly the same degree of professionalism and duty of care as regular employees, including access to disciplinary and grievance procedures. You should be given as much responsibility and diversity in your work as possible. Your employer  should make sure that you  are made to feel part of the organisation and are not treated merely as a visitor. You must be provided with work that develops your skills. Your structured work plan should contribute to your professional and learning objectives and should be open to revision. You should be allowed to attend job interviews or complete study requirements. [Common best practice Code for high quality Internships]

What Is an Internship?

Internships are:

  • undergraduate, graduate or postgraduate placements: these may take place during vacation periods, in between courses or after a student has finished higher education
  • students in further education (such as sixth-form, tertiary and specialist colleges and adult education institutes) may undertake work experience relevant to, but not part of, their studies: these may take place during vacation periods, in between courses or after a student has finished higher education
  • adults wishing to pursue a new career path may undertake work experience in that area: people in this category may or may not have attended further or higher education [Common best practice Code for high quality Internships]

Internships are not:

  • placements that are a compulsory component of a further or higher education course, which have been contractually agreed between the employer, student, and college or university
  • work tasters or work shadowing where people do not perform work for the organisation, but simply observe the profession for a brief period to learn about the practice aspects of a career
  • part-time, full-time or vacation work unrelated to the pursuit of a professional career
  • work undertaken by students to finance their studies unrelated to the pursuit of a professional career [Common best practice Code for high quality Internships]

Your Employment Status as an Intern

It is your status that gives you rights at work. You can be an employee or a worker. As an employee you have more rights than a worker. [see Employment Status]

Employee Intern

Section 230 (1) Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996) describes an employee as an individual who has entered into or works under (or, where the employment has ceased, worked under) a contract of employment. A ‘contract of employment’ is a contract of service or apprenticeship, whether express or implied, and (if it is express) whether oral or in writing [ERA 1996 section 230(2)].

If you are employed on a fixed term, you have additional rights under the Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 not to be treated less favourably than a comparable permanent employee.

Case law has established that in a valid contract of service you;

  • provide your own work and skill in the performance of some service in return for pay
  • in performing that service, you are subject to a sufficient degree of control by your  employer
  • there is ‘mutuality of obligation’ between you and your employer. [ERA 1996 section 230(3)]

Mutuality of obligation means that you HAVE to do the work that your employer tells you to do, and your employer MUST pay you whether or not they give you work to do. In some circumstances there is an obligation on your employer to provide you with work.

Employment Rights

You have all the statutory entitlements of an employee including the right not to be unfairly dismissed, to receive redundancy payments, the right to a written statement of particulars of employment as well as maternity and paternity leave and pay. [see EOC Employees Rights]

Worker Intern

Section 230(3) ERA 1996 describes a worker as an individual who has entered into or works under a contract of employment, or any other contract. Under this contract, the worker undertakes to personally do or perform any work or services for another party to the contract (your employer). Your employer must not be a client or customer of any profession or business undertaking that you are carrying out and you must not be self-employed (shop workers and betting workers are excluded from this description).

Worker Rights

Workers also have protections under employment law and must not;

As a worker intern you have statutory entitlements which include the following;

Intern Aware says that a good internship should include the following:

  • a contract—explaining details of your pay, responsibilities and what else you can expect to get out of the internship
  • induction—an introduction to the organisation and relevant staff members, and to be given an explanation on how the workplace functions and which resources will enable you to carry out your role
  • support—you should be valued as a member of staff and treated in the same professional way, and with the same duty of care, as regular employees
  • challenge—the work must offer a challenge, an appropriate learning experience and an opportunity for development
  • supervision and mentoring—as a new member of the team, you can expect to be given guidance to help you carry out your  role effectively
  • feedback—regular feedback to help your development which may be informal or formal

Making internships work: an interns guide]

Volunteers and Unpaid Internships

You are a volunteer if you are under no obligation to work, but you agree to do unpaid work and accept reimbursement of your expenses.  You can come and go as you please, whereas interns usually have set working hours and are paid. You are protected from discrimination but are not entitled to the statutory rights that employees and workers have.

The days of the unpaid internship are numbered and there are quite a number of employment tribunal cases where volunteer interns have won their claim to worker status and entitlement to the minimum wage.


As a worker or employee intern, you must be paid at least either the National Minimum Wage or the National Living Wage regardless of your experience or the length of your internship. If your employer is not paying you at these levels  contact the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368 for advice.

Last Updated: [11/09/2021]