What Are My Rights on Work Experience?
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Whether you’re doing an internship, placement year or work experience, it’s really important you are clear on the terms of your employment so that you are not taken advantage of.
You may feel your lack of experience lets your employer off the hook when it comes to reimbursing you or treating you fairly. That is not the case.
We’ve done the hard work for you and put together this comprehensive guide to help you better understand your employee rights.
Should I be getting paid?
What this all boils down to is whether or not you are classed as a worker. Employers are legally obliged to pay all workers the National Minimum Wage. However, the laws around this are far from black and white.
Let's break it down...
You are entitled to the National Minimum Wage if you are:
You may not be entitled to the National Minimum Wage if you are*:
*If none of these apply to you, it’s likely your employer is breaking the law by letting you work for nothing. Keep reading this post to find out how to take action.
What are the National Minimum Wage rates?
23 and over
21 to 22
18 to 20
What is it? A placement (AKA a ‘year in industry’ ‘industrial placement’ or ‘sandwich placement’) usually forms part of a four-year degree. Less tasty than Subway’s footlong Meatball Marinara with Monterey Jack cheese, Jalapeños and a dollop of Chipotle Southwest sauce... but a great way to get your foot on the career ladder.
What are my rights? Placements can be paid or unpaid. If you take on an unpaid position, you will be free to work your own hours and should not be asked to carry out tasks usually completed by paid employees.
Why should I do an unpaid placement when I could be paid? If this is playing on your mind, you are wise beyond your years my friend. The majority of placements pay a very reasonable salary and even come with extra perks such as paid holiday time. The average placement student earns 16,071 a year.
Focus your search on those employers willing to pay you and you won’t have to live off Heinz Spaghetti Hoops for a year.
What is it? An internship is a formal work experience programme that typically takes place over the Easter or summer holidays. It can last anywhere from 1-4 months and will help you decide if your chosen industry is the right fit for you.
What are my rights? Frustratingly, the term ‘intern’ currently has no legal status under minimum wage law. If you’re not being paid, ask to have your expenses covered and try to negotiate flexible working hours so you can fit it around a part-time job. After all, experience doesn’t pay the rent.
If you answer YES to any of the following, you are likely eligible for the National Minimum Wage:
The average salary for an intern is £20,869 pro rata. So don’t be afraid to ask your employer for payment where it’s due.
Read our guide to The Highest Paid Internships & Placements in the UK to find out how much you could earn in a particular industry or region →
What is it? Work experience or ‘work shadowing’ is usually aimed at younger students looking to get a feel for working life in a particular role or industry.
It is an opportunity to observe someone in their day-to-day job and can last for just a few days or up to a couple of weeks. Although you may be asked to help out with a few small tasks, it is more a chance for you to watch and learn.
What are my rights? Employers are not obliged to pay you but, as a minimum, your travel and lunch expenses should be covered so that you’re not out of pocket. In turn, you are not required to complete any set tasks and can come and go as you please.
If you are told you have to work certain hours or carry out tasks on the behalf of full-time employees, you are technically working and therefore entitled to the National Minimum Wage.
We believe in paid internships
It can be easy to forget your own worth when you take on an internship or placement, but if you’re working like a full-time employee, you should be treated like one.
47% of graduate hires from companies in our Top 100 Undergraduate Employers were students that had completed an internship or placement during their degree. So it’s vital you find an employer who will take an interest in your professional development.
And with most companies now offering students competitive salaries (plus exciting employee perks), there’s simply no reason to undersell yourself.
But it’s not all about the money, money, money...
A good employer will treat you well regardless of whether you’re doing a one-month internship or you’ve been working for them for years.
If your role classes you as a ‘worker’, you will have other employment rights besides your paycheck, including:
The best internships and placements are paid, but you should also be:
Where can I get support and advice if I need it?
If you have proven yourself to be a capable employee whose work adds value to the company, they should be willing to reward you by negotiating the terms of your employment. Focus the conversation on your successes and bring examples of any outstanding work you’ve done so far.
If that doesn’t work, you can make a "pay and work rights complaint" with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC); a government body tasked with ensuring the National Minimum Wage is enforced.
You may feel uncomfortable doing this, in which case you can report your employer to HMRC once you have finished and claim back the money you are owed.
Even if you agreed to work for free at the time, it is possible to claim back wages for an unpaid position up to six years later. Companies found to be breaking the law can face fines, public naming and criminal prosecution.
We recommend always setting out the terms of your employment before carrying out any work for an employer.
There is no legal obligation to do so, but a written agreement will help clarify what is expected of both parties and may be useful to refer to if any misunderstandings arise. It should cover things like payment, expenses, working hours and learning objectives.
Everybody has rights, whether they are in education, volunteering or working, so make sure you know yours or you may miss out on what you’re owed.
Written by Louise
Louise is a Senior Content Writer at RateMyPlacement.co.uk. Having started her own career with four unpaid internships, she jumped at the chance to help others make better, more informed decisions about their futures. Since joining in 2018, Louise has penned countless blogs and how-to guides, alongside award-winning campaigns that connect millions of young people with top employers like Lidl, J.P. Morgan and Police Now. With seven years writing experience, Louise has previously covered everything from Wowcher vouchers to Ghanaian music festivals - making her more versatile than Vaseline. She currently works in Bristol with her cat Peggy