Interns & Volunteers in the Workplace

Linda Hynes, employment law associate with Ogier Leman writes a monthly feature for Legal-Island email subscribers providing handy precedents and checklists for subscribers to download and use. This month’s topic focuses on the use of interns and volunteers in the workplace.

Internships are commonplace now with employers looking for low cost ways to hire staff and with graduates seeking to get some experience for their CVs. Very often the hiring of an intern is extremely informal and their contact details may come in through business colleagues, clients and friends looking to give their kids/nieces/nephews a chance to get some work experience. For most graduates it is impossible to even get interviewed for jobs during the current recession without having some relevant work experience.

However these informal arrangements come with their own risks that employers should be mindful of. The recent death of an intern employed at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London has also caused serious debate about the working hours of young people in internships with investment bank interns pushing themselves too much in order to impress their bosses. In this instance the 21 year old intern was said to have worked until 6am for 3 days in a row before his death and 100 hour weeks are not uncommon for interns in investment banks looking to get a job.

Regardless of the role being given to the intern, employers must be aware that interns in Ireland are still a category of worker and therefore entitled to the same basic rights as other employees. This includes all health and safety protections, maximum working hours, rest periods and breaks. They should be given adequate annual leave and relevant public holiday entitlements. Employers need to be careful not to take advantage of or exploit these desperate young people in a way that is detrimental to their health. The risks of such treatment are not only potential personal injury claims but also the bad press of being a tyrant employer.

The biggest question for employers is whether it is legal not to pay an intern. This really depends on the type of work they will be carrying out for you and what actually happens on a day to day basis. If they are carrying out exactly the same work as your other employees then there is potential for them to argue they should be receiving pay on the same basis. Employees cannot sign away their rights to minimum wage by signing a contract or letter.

In the UK case of Vetta v London Dreams Motion Pictures the Tribunal held that the intern was in fact a worker for the purposes of minimum wage legislation. This was because the intern was given tasks and responsibilities that were similar those of a full-time employee. Employers should be careful to ensure that the tasks carried out by their interns have an emphasis on training and learning and are not just a way to get low cost or no cost labour.

Linda has prepared a checklist of matters for employers to consider before deciding to take on an intern or volunteer. Considering these matters up front can help avoid nasty disputes or NERA visits down the line.

Click here to access the inters and volunteers in the workplace checklist.


This publication is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice. No liability is accepted by Ogier Leman for any action taken or not taken in reliance on the information set out in this publication. Professional or legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this publication. Any and all information is subject to change.

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