Law firm Gardner Leader is warning employers who use unpaid interns that they could be breaking the law and flouting national minimum wage legislation.
The firm issued the warning after 100 employers were referred to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) by employment minister Jo Swinson following a campaign by Intern Aware to raise awareness of the practice.
Under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 workers are entitled to be paid the national minimum wage, currently £6.19 per hour for over 21s, and where this does not happen an investigation by HMRC is likely.
Branding unpaid internships for young people as exploitative and often illegal, Intern Aware is pushing for payment for all work experience placements.
The employment minister has supported the campaign, acknowledging that there is a significant problem in society where people are working for no money when they should be being paid.
Following the move, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has urged any unpaid interns who feel they are being exploited to contact the pay and work rights helpline.
Julie Taylor, solicitor in the Gardner Leader employment team, explained: “Employers need to be careful where they offer unpaid work experience or other placements as there is a grey area surrounding the difference between a genuine short-term work experience placement, designed to give an insight into a particular job, and a longer-term placement where there’s proper work which should be paid. It’s best to seek legal advice for guidance, as where unpaid work experience is offered, employers need to ensure they’re not flouting minimum wage legislation.”