Should I Pay My Intern? A Guide For Worried Companies

There’s a lot of noise around paid vs unpaid internships at the moment. With no-one quite sure of the legal stance, it can be difficult to know whether the role you’re offering (or applying for) should be paid or not. Over at Enternships, we see a lot of internships being advertised, and we’re happy to offer you a free guide to figuring out where you stand. With our tried and tested questionnaire, there’s no reason you shouldn’t know exactly how your internship should work – from both an employer and employee point of view.

Is your intern doing Important Stuff?

And by that, we mean jobs and tasks that need to get completed for the benefit of the company as a whole – not paper-pushing or coffee-making. If yes, you should be paying your intern national minimum wage. The moment that the services your intern is providing makes a difference to the company, they are no longer a volunteer, they are legally defined as a ‘worker’, and should be treated as such.

Does your intern have deadlines and or responsibilities?

If yes, you should be paying your intern. Volunteers – people you don’t have to pay – remain so as long as nothing in their task description has a deadline or any sort of responsibility associated with it. Many interns however – and particularly those taken on in smaller companies – are asked to relish the idea of immediate responsibility, and if this is the case, they technically (and legally) require payment.

Are you providing training, and not expecting work in return?

If yes, you don’t necessarily have to pay your intern. Some internships can be defined as ‘work experience’, and as such do not have to be paid. However, they do have to conform to the following standards:

-No tasks must be asked of the intern to be completed within set hours or to a deadline

-Work shadowing features heavily

-Any training given benefits the intern more than the company running it

-It shouldn’t run for more than a few weeks at a time.

And finally,

Do you want the best quality applicants?

If yes, you should be paying your intern. Not only does adhering to minimum wage ensure that your intern feels incentivised to deliver the best level of work (not to mention making them feel like part of the team), but it means you’ll get a much wider spectrum of people applying for your role. Filtering your talent by only taking on those who can afford to work for free isn’t fair, and means that eminently talented young people are blocked from starting what might be a blistering career.

A good internship can be the making of both candidate and company, and shouldn’t be shied away from. Connecting fresh young talent with companies looking to innovate is one of the best ways to grow ideas, networks and teams – good luck to anyone embarking upon it.

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Natasha Hodgson is the Content and Community Manager over at Enternships. She loves writing about inspiring things, and Nicolas Cage. Luckily, those two things are not mutually exclusive.

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