Students and Grads — you NEED to know your rights when it comes to interning. I was listening to a segment on Radio 4's Money Box last week (something you all need to get on), called 'Concern Over Increase in Unpaid Internships'. It dawned on me that you might think you kinda know the legalities but it's integral to REALLY know. I also found out some new news on my quest — did you know it is possible to get an employer to BACK PAY you for up to six years after an illegal unpaid internship?! More on this below...
Equally, I get DM's on the regular from students and Grads asking: 'is this right? Isn't it illegal to not pay me?!'. If you are a Grad — YES. Most recently, someone reached out to me and told me that popular clothing brand, Never Fully Dressed, wanted to hire them FULL TIME, UNPAID — even though they knew they were a Grad. One more time...
*** IF YOU ARE A GRAD, IT'S ILLEGAL NOT TO PAY YOU ***
So how can brands still get away with it? Because people are still taking on unpaid internships and the worst bit — the law isn't enforced as much as it should be. F YOU HMRC. So what can you do? Know your rights, say no, get advice, report and air the brands' dirty laundry on social. More on this below...
Scarily, with COVID there are even more Grads desperately needing experience and companies having to cut their budgets. This, in turn, opens up the floor for even more unpaid internships being taken on and created. I can understand the economic dilemma you are all facing, but I want to equip you with your rights so you can go in armed to any situation.
Firstly, this is what you need to remember:
What can you do about it?
Unfortunately, brands don't have to pay you if:
You are classed as a 'worker' and should be PAID if:
Did you know?
1. 'What do I do if I get the role and then find out it's UNPAID?'
Do not be afraid to decline! I know you don't want to lose the op — but you HAVE to do what is right for you. If you are still happy to take it on, then that is down to you. If you really don't want to — say NO. If you are happy to email back a reply declining, amazing! I am proud of you! If you need help with that contact ACAS, ask your parents, tutor or me. Paid opportunities WILL come and it will be so worth it.
2. 'What do I do if I am in an internship that's UNPAID and want to leave?'
Gather information — are the other interns being paid? Try and find out as you need to understand where you sit and when the company sits. Re-read this article and other resources to gather as much info to arm yourself with and talk to your manager. If they say no to paying you and you are within your rights — walk out that door Honey. You will not be penalised.
3. 'Would walking out damage my career?'
No! Always do it politely and professionally. First talk to your employer or manager (like the above) and then make your plan. If a new employer (which WILL be paying you) asks about the role, be 100% honest. They will respect your honesty and professionalism.
4. 'What if I have signed a contract, knowing it's UNPAID? I am a Grad and I am entitled to be paid'
It doesn't matter. It is still illegal and signing a contract does not make this suddenly compliant to Miniman Wage Act. Leave the role if you are in it or don't take the role. IF you would like advice/support, contact HMRC and speak to an advisor at ACAS.
If not, just post your question in the FACEBOOK GROUP and we will answer it within 24 hours. Better yet — you may even get other members responding with their prime knowledge!