UK Interns Who Are Not Being Trained Can Collect Payment

- - Working

This decision over in the UK where an unpaid intern collected back payment because she was working instead of being trained should serve as a wakeup call for those who use interns for free labor.

“This judgment says that if someone is taken on as intern, and is doing a proper job rather than just being trained, then they will be regarded as a worker for the purposes of the national minimum wage.”

“And even if that is an oral agreement, as it was in Keri’s case, the evidence was sufficient enough for her to be judged as a worker,” says Mincoff. In other words, even if there is an agreement to volunteer for free, if an intern is doing real work, they still have to be paid.

Read the story here.

There Are 15 Comments On This Article.

  1. Of course this relies entirely on perception. One intern that worked for me never went beyond the absolute minimum of what was asked and subsequently never learned anything, after three weeks she quit complaining that she wasn’t being taught anything. A second never stopped asking questions, was intrigued by everything, learned an enormous amount and was thoroughly grateful.

    Learning is something that you have to want to do. If you treat an internship as a chore and a job that it will become that.

    Its a shame because internships will probably become fewer and far between if you’re going to end up paying them then you’ll take someone with experience.

  2. @Hugh. I agree. It’s really about how motivated the person is.

    If I was legally obligated to pay for newbie level help, I’d just hire a tried and true assistant, not an intern. It would cut opportunities off in many cases to get the experience to bridge the unfortunately large gap between school and professional work. I know it would have cut opportunities off for me when I started out…

    • @John and @Hugh Whitaker

      Wrong. There are certain protections afforded by the law that unpaid internships now commonly skirt. Now, all the jobs that used to be performed by entry level graduates you described are performed by free labor, giving an unfair advantage to those whose parents mail them checks for a few years while they ‘get experience.’ How are your workers supposed to pay the rent? If you need a more experienced worker, you adjust your pay accordingly, but minimum wage is there for a reason. The baseline can’t be zero. Just because it’s common, doesn’t mean it’s ethical or legal. If you work, without being directly trained in a hands-on way, you are entitled to pay. You can tell a lot about someone by what they ask others to do for free. I had an internship right out of school which paid $15 an hour with full health benefits. The company just made it a priority to do the ethical/legal thing. If your business can’t afford to pay it’s assistants, it shouldn’t have assistants.

      The problem is, that since everyone does it, your company is at a competitive disadvantage by forgoing it, which is why strict legal enforcement is necessary, to keep the playing field level.

      • Andre Friedmann

        Unpaid interns?
        Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire, as in:
        No workers’ comp policy.
        No sales tax registration or reporting.
        No comprehensive general liability insurance.
        Misclassifying temporary/casual employees as independent contractors.
        Photographers have more than a few ways to get a competitive advantage in the market.

        • @Andre Friedmann,

          You are right on the money here, and in your other post as well. It amazes me that you don’t hear about injuries and lawsuits more often, especially as the Weekend Warriors get into the business, with no knowledge of what is required of them, legally, by the state.

  3. Andre Friedmann

    In New York, I could never figure out how to have unpaid interns without risking liability for things like workers’ comp, in case they might be injured on the job. At first I thought I’d check to be sure that each intern had his/her own health insurance. But then my insurance agent explained the problem with that thinking: if an intern falls and breaks a leg and incurs $30k in orthopedic surgery, their health insurer will pay for their health care and then immediately turn around and whack me, using something called “subrogation” and asking my workers’ comp carrier to pay. And without workers’ comp, they’d take me to the cleaners for the $30k.
    My solution was to put the interns on the payroll, paying them a bit more than the minimum wage, and arranging for them to get academic credit, too. Those two things didn’t guarantee good, motivated interns, but they did eliminate my fear of having to pay for anyone’s orthopedic surgery.

    • @Andre Friedmann,

      This could/would happen in any state with a workers comp law. Assistants should also be covered under workers comp.

      There are some payroll companies that specialize in film productions that can be useful for this.

  4. I think Europe has is right. Many photographers (as well as other companies) are trying to get around paying part time employees and the necessary taxes by calling them “interns”. Have you seen the ads on Craig’s List? Wanted: Intern position school credit, no pay. Must be proficient in Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash, Excel, Word, and a host of other programs. Why would you require an “intern” to already know something you are supposed to be teaching them? You don’t need an intern, you need an employee. I personally am glad that the government is cracking down on these PAYROLL DEADBEATS. If you can’t afford employees then get out of the business.

    Andre Friedmann is right on. If one of your interns gets hurt or worse yet, hurts someone else, you are totally responsible and more than likely, your insurance won’t cover it because they are not on your payroll. You might want to read the small print on your policy before you play fast and loos with a potential lawsuit.

  5. William Gray

    EU may have it ‘right’ in the utopian la la world but if litigation for libel is any indication of where they are court case wise we are light years away. Great to imagine the ‘correct’ way but this wouldn’t fly in the US court system. If you’re interning in any business situation that you want to follow carrier wise you’re bound to learn something. I’ve read over the repeated can of worms here and other places about free interns but if you’re being taken advantage of and you do it for more than a month shame on you.

  6. The interesting thing about this is that the minimum wage in the UK is administered by the Inland Revenue. Bear in mind that not only do they protect workers rights when they enforce the minimum wage on interns, they also collect a fair proportion of those wages in tax and national insurance. Call me a cynic but while cash strapped governments might turn a blind eye to worker exploitation, they may be more interested in collecting potentially millions in tax revenues from companies in a way that would play very well to the electorate at large. It would be a win-win for the goverment.

  7. I agree with Hugh, I have had interns that are highly motivated and excited for the opportunity to work in our industry….. they end up learning the most, and I have several times gone on to hire these interns as full time employees after the internship was up. But others just didn’t seem that interested, and when they realized being a photographer is actually quite a bit of WORK they just sort of checked out. I do my best to give interns every opportunity to learn, but they really have to want it too.

  8. I graduated last year and spent the first five months post-graduation interning for free. The experience was indispensable for the contacts (and friends) I made working for these companies, in addition to the opportunities I made for myself whilst there. However, with a few of the internships I have undertaken, the level of responsibility given to me outweighed that of an internship and I found myself being treated as if I were staff.

    In these cases, where there is a job masquerading as an internship opportunity, I think it would be ideal to offer a minimum wage payment. Alternatively, I think it would perhaps be better for the company to simply offer reimbursements for transport, lunch et al whilst the intern is at work.

    During an internship I did in London several years ago, the company asked me to travel all over London every day using the underground without reimbursing my transport costs – as I was often working as their ‘delivery girl’ as opposed to learning from them, I felt that I was being severely taken advantage of.

    This is, perhaps, not a case of the companies duty to pay interns – but more for them to have a better sense of conscience with regards to the ethical treatment and value of interns.