Unpaid interns can have rights


3 mins

Posted on 25 May 2011

In Keri Hudson v TPG Web Publishing Limited, Ms Hudson worked as an unpaid intern for TPG, a publishing company.   The ET found that she was in fact a “worker” and therefore was entitled to receive wages and holiday pay.

Ms Hudson worked for the My Village Website for two months.  She worked between 10 am and 6 pm and was responsible for a team of writers, scheduling articles and hiring new interns.  Ms Hudson had no written contract of employment, but there had been some discussions that she would be paid which the company later reneged on, claiming that she was not entitled to pay as an intern.  The discussions between Ms Hudson and the company and the extent of the duties she performed were sufficient to show that there was an implied contractual relationship between Ms Hudson and the company.   Therefore, Ms Hudson was found by the ET to be a “worker” and as such she was entitled to be paid the national minimum wage and holiday pay.  

The National Union of Journalists supported Ms Hudson’s claim.  The Union has asked other interns to get in touch with them if they are in a similar position and has warned: “This sends a clear message to media companies that if they treat interns like cheap labour, the NUJ will take you through the courts...”   Tough talking.  This matter follows a case brought by a film extra, who successfully argued that he was a worker and therefore entitled to pay and holidays.  

In April 2011, the government published its strategy, “Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers”, which is aimed at increasing social mobility.  As part of the strategy, the practice of unpaid internships will be curbed by encouraging employers to open up their recruitment processes to those from “all walks of life” and offer financial support to their interns.  The strategy warns that if employers fail to pay the National Minimum Wage, where appropriate, then this will be taken “very seriously”.  Updated guidance will be provided by the government in due course.  In 2010, the TUC issued a website specifically for interns (http://www.rightsforinterns.org.uk/).  They state: “…If your internship only involves work shadowing, you may not have a right to be paid. But if as an intern you do work of value for the employer you are likely to have a right to the national minimum wage. This will particularly be the case if your employer agrees to pay you expenses or other benefits in kind, including training, in return for your work...” 

Interns are likely to be more aware of their rights as a result of these cases and the TUC’s website.  In any event, employers should be mindful of their obligations before inviting interns to work with them.  Further, employers should be careful about the representations made to interns and the type of work which is undertaken by them.

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