Internships and volunteering are becoming more and more popular. They afford employers low cost ways to hire staff and the intern/volunteer gains work experience which increases both chances for getting interviews and benefits their CV’s overall.

The Government internship scheme JobBridge is governed by its own rules and there are also other formal internship schemes but many employers are availing of internships and volunteering opportunities aside from these formal schemes. However, care should be taken in regard to these informal arrangements.

The biggest question for employers is whether it is legal not to pay the intern. In Ireland employees cannot contract or sign away their rights to minimum wage. The internship should be structured in a manner to demonstrate that it is an unpaid internship. If the employee is carrying out the same type of work as paid employees then there is the potential for them to argue that they should be receiving pay on the same basis. Emphasis should be placed on training and learning for the intern and not just cost effective labour for the employer. It could be useful to consider entering an arrangement with a local college for putting an internship programme in place.

Some areas to consider if you are considering taking on an intern:

What duties will the intern carry out? If they are the same as paid employees then they could be deemed to be employees.

What training and experience will the intern gain? On going reviews and having a mentor in place can be useful methods to assess and ensure that the intern is benefiting from the process.

Ensure interns are not expected to work over time. Also it can be useful to give the intern the choice as to when to work and as to whether to complete tasks as this can demonstrate the voluntariness of the arrangement. Ensure that they are getting proper breaks and rest periods.

Avoid making payments that could be seen to be wages. If you are making a payment to an intern be very clear that the payment is to cover expenses.

Avoid providing benefits or perks to interns that are provided to employees.

Ensure that interns are aware of all health and safety procedures and also that bullying and harassment policies cover all people on site, including the interns.
Remember that internships can be of great benefit to all parties but care should be taken to ensure that the intern isn’t being taken advantage of which would ultimately disadvantage the employer providing the intern with the opportunity to gain experience. For more questions on the above or any other employment queries please email Thomas Norris or call him on 051 840003.

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