What are your business’s obligations for volunteers, interns and work experience?

With thoughts of summer and placements being planned, it’s time to talk about the volunteers, interns and work experience that you might take on at your businesses. The three groups are very different, with varying employment rights and obligations for you as a business owner or manager.


Internships usually take place as part of further or higher education courses, for graduates and undergraduates. These are very beneficial for the students, who can increase their skills and knowledge from the industry they wish to progress in, as well as gaining some worthwhile general working experience.

These internships can last from a few weeks to a year and are part of a formal structured programme.

Acas states that an intern may have employment rights but this will depend on the employment status, and that interns should be paid at least the National Minimum (or Living) Wage if they are carrying out the role as a worker.

There are some exceptions, including if the interns are voluntary workers, on a sandwich placement that is part of a higher education course and if a student is carrying out work shadowing.

If you promise the intern a contract for future work, they are then classed as a worker and are entitled to certain employment rights, including:

  • the National Minimum (or Living) Wage
  • paid holidays
  • protection against unlawful discrimination
  • protection against unlawful deductions from wages
  • the right not to be treated less favourably for working part-time.


Volunteers carry out unpaid work, usually for a charity or other non-profit organisation.

If your company or organisation uses volunteers, you must ensure that they have access to the right training and development, as well as a role description. It is also beneficial to have a volunteering agreement as an alternative to a contract of employment, defining the basis of their relationship with you.

As volunteers are not classed as workers or employees, they do not get paid or have a contract of employment.

Work Experience

Work experience is generally undertaken by students of compulsory school age, where they spend a short amount of time with an employer to learn directly about work and the working environment. Some tasks may be performed, but usually it’s a chance for students to observe and learn what happens in a normal working day.

Work shadowing is a similar process where students watch someone going about their day-to-day job. This can be from a couple of days to a few weeks. Again, this observing and learning helps them gain an understanding of the role, which is particularly important if they are considering future careers.

When work experience students and those that are work shadowing are of compulsory school age, they are not eligible for National Minimum Wage or entitled to employment rights as a worker. This also applies to those in further or higher education, if the placement doesn’t exceed one year, and participants in government schemes or programmes to provide training and work experience.

If you’d like to know more about your obligations as a business for volunteers, interns and those on work experience, contact me today.


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