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Is your intern really volunteering?

A  minor twitter storm erupted yesterday when Legal Cheek* wrote about a law firm who had placed an ad for a three month intern.

The position offered a law student or graduate the opportunity to gain work experience and made it clear they were expected to work three days a week over a three month period and would have responsibility for writing certain court documents and attending court. 

The ad did not mention pay.  Instead, it referred to the arrangement as "volunteering" - a pretty broad hint that the "lucky" applicant would not, in fact, be paid.

Internships have become very popular over the last few years, particularly in professional services.  Those that can afford to work for nothing (or next to nothing)  see it as a good opportunity to gain valuable work experience which will make them more attractive to other employers.

Do you have to pay an intern if they are getting work experience?

Yes, unless they are a genuine volunteer. 

Volunteers generally; 

1. Provide their time and effort freely

2. Can come and go as they please

3. Are under no obligation to provide their services

4. Cannot be made to perform specific duties

5. Do not suffer any sanctions if they do not perform their duties.

The language used in this ad suggests that the intern will have duties and responsibilities and is under an obligation to attend work.  I think this makes them a worker entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage.

Government guidance states:"the term ‘intern’ has no legal status under minimum wage law. Entitlement to the minimum wage does not depend on what someone is called, the type of work they do, how the work is described (such as ‘unpaid’ or ‘expenses only’) or the profession or sector they work in. What matters is whether the agreement or arrangement they have with you makes them a worker for minimum wage purposes." 

Need more information?

Read our FAQ's about volunteers, or contact Kirsty Ayre by email: or by phone: (0)114 274 4911. 

*Legal Cheek is an online publication providing commentary on legal matters.

The ad goes on to say that “as the legal internship position is voluntary, the working day is a minimum of three days a week at our office for three months”. Despite the detailed job description, the listing omits to mention anything in terms of salary or expenses.”