Published on December 18th, 2012 | by bubble1
Digital Internships: Essential Or Exploitation?
This is a really informative guest blog from Nick Branch who’s keen to make sure you know your rights when it comes to bagging a digital internship.
They’ve been called a vital step for a new career, but have also lambasted as a major barrier to getting a job. Some believe they’re essential for building up your CV, while others think that they discriminate against poor graduates, favouring those from wealthier backgrounds who can afford to work for free.
Whatever your view, internships play a key role in the employment mix for most digital careers. In a marketplace like digital, where it’s tough to distinguish yourself from the scores of other talented graduates hunting down a handful of jobs, a stint as an intern is like adding nitrous to your CV.
However internships are coming under fire, not least from Labour MP Hazel Blears who this week will table a bill in Parliament to regulate the advertisement of long term, unpaid internships and the conditions of employment for paid interns.
The law as it stands
At present companies can offer paid or unpaid internships to suit their needs, however the law on unpaid internships is already quite clear. Essentially, the moment a placement becomes ‘work’ the intern should be paid the National Minimum Wage, which varies depending on your age.
What classifies as work is up for interpretation, hence the argument for new laws in the area, but the courts have set a number of conditions that point a placement towards being work and therefore eligible for payment.
To be truly ‘unpaid’ experience, an internship should allow the intern to come and go as they please, any requirement to attend work for set hours would point a court towards a position being paid. Most jobs require attendance at some point to gain any value from them, so this condition is open to some interpretation, but if you feel like you ‘have’ to be in work, then you probably should be getting paid.
Another important factor is the type of work that is asked of the intern. To be ‘unpaid’ the work must generally not add value to the business, nor be something that replaces work that would otherwise normally be carried out by paid employees. So if your unpaid internship involves producing content for clients to deadlines, there’s a good chance you should be able to claim remuneration for your efforts.
The final area that courts consider is the value of the placement to the intern and the employer. Generally speaking an unpaid internship should be for the benefit of the intern. Factors that would be relevant here are whether the intern is supervised by an employee, and receives training or learning opportunities. This is a grey area, but in the main if you’re expected to be self-sufficient and produce output rather than learn, you could have a good claim to be paid.
Speaking out against unpaid internships
The real problem with unpaid internships is that the relationship between employer and intern is unbalanced. In the current economic climate graduates are so eager for experience, particularly in digital and other competitive fields that the idea that they might raise a complaint against a potential employer seems like heresy.
However unpaid interns are urged not to be so easily exploited. Some would say that standing up for yourself is just as important a career trait as any that can be acquired through unpaid work experience. Plus, the sort of employer that will exploit graduates is probably not the sort of employer that you want to throw your lot in with anyway!
Nick Branch received his LLB from UWE in 2004, he specialises in employment, commercial and international/EU law and has previous worked as a director of two businesses. To find out more on different internships or see more work from Nick, visit Contact Law.