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How to make sure your internships comply with regulations

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Summer has now arrived universities are out and schools are about to break up. Young people are looking for jobs or even work experience as interns to get a foot on the employment ladder.

Recently I came this article which sums up the pitfalls companies can fall into, companies need to ensure they’re operating within the law.

"With the British Hospitality Association estimating a shortfall of at least 60,000 workers each year if immigration is too tightly controlled post-Brexit, it is hardly surprising that some employers are scrambling to entice British school leavers into the sector.

But Pret A Manger's initiative to offer a week's work experience to teenagers backfired in publicity terms over revelations that the sandwich shop chain was allegedly only planning to give them free food. The company has now confirmed that it will pay the youngsters, saying the scheme was “not about making sandwiches for free” but to allow young people to “shadow our teams and get a flavour for what working at Pret is like”.

In fact, legally speaking 'work shadowing' does not need to be paid. However, interns will be due the national minimum wage (NMW) – or the national living wage if they are over 25 – if they meet the legal test of being a 'worker'.

In broad terms, the only time an intern is not entitled to NMW is if they are:

  • doing a student internship as part of a UK-based further or higher education course;
  • a work experience student of compulsory school age (under 16);
  • volunteering for a charity; or
  • 'work shadowing'.

Work shadowing opportunities should not be ruled out by employers that are keen to get people interested in working in their industry and dispel myths about working for them or their sector. Offering the chance to experience a work environment first hand can be a fantastic way to tap into a new resource market, but the experience must be positive. Employers should use the chance to provide information about the training that would be offered and the career opportunities to this new audience.

Such opportunities should be clearly signposted to ensure the employer is not seen as trying to get work for free. And employers should target a wide range of potential candidates, to leave the business better protected from challenges around equality and diversity; working in partnership with schools and local colleges could be a good way of achieving this.

Any work shadowing scheme must also be monitored carefully to ensure it meets the description: the intern must not carry out any work and must only observe. Of course, an enthusiastic intern is likely to want to get involved and actually work. Indeed, any internship is likely to be more useful if the candidate does get their hands dirty. Arguably the best kind of experience to attract someone to a role is hands-on but, by law, and most definitely in the court of public opinion, they should be paid. if the candidate does get their hands dirty."

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