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Sue Morrison, employment law specialist and partner at Hill Dickinson LLP, shares her views on the practicalities of engaging unpaid interns.

As we continue to live in uncertain times, there has been an increase in the use of unpaid interns in business. Using interns can allow businesses the opportunity to provide valuable work experience, or test a potential employee’s suitability for a particular role. At the same time, concerns have been raised by the media about exploitation and allegations that they favour the better-off.

There are potential commercial risks attached to offering unpaid internships and businesses should take some basic steps to limit risk.

- What rights do unpaid interns have?

This depends on the particular arrangement. Interns have been held to be employees - with all corresponding rights; workers - with rights to paid annual leave and the national minimum wage; or some other class of worker - with equality rights. The contractual agreement between the parties is key and so reviewing and adapting your documentation should be the starting point.

- What can I do to prevent interns becoming employees/workers?

Seek advice and ensure that your agreements are drafted carefully. Obligations should be flexible, and interns should retain the right to refuse tasks. Avoid making payments or giving perks that could be seen as "wages", and ensure that expenses are reimbursed against the production of valid receipts.

- What about my confidential information?

A confidentiality clause, tailored to your business, should be inserted into every internship agreement. Apply appropriate caution as to the access you give interns to your confidential information, including access to IT systems, client or customer databases and pricing information.

It is important to note that interns enjoy the right not be discriminated against on the grounds of a protected characteristic, such as age, sex or race.

Just because an intern is free, it doesn't mean that they are without value, or without potential cost. Arrangements with interns should be entered into with the same care and attention that you afford to your paid employees.

For further information or advice, please contact Sue Morrison on 0161 817 7327 or visit our website, www.hilldickinson.com.


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