Unpaid interns

Typically, unpaid internships offer a taste of what is usually involved in a job or industry, as well as the chance to network and to add practical experience to their resume.

Many businesses however seek to avoid paying lawful entitlements to employees by labelling them an “intern” or calling it a “vocational placement” or similar. In law firms (yes, they do it too), it’s a “law clerk”.

The fact is that if they are performing productive work for your business, they are an employee and are therefore legally entitled to be paid.

Before engaging an unpaid intern, business owners need to genuinely consider if the placement is providing them with work experience, a career opportunity and take steps to avoid the arrangement being considered exploitation. That is, are they really an unpaid employee?

To determine whether the arrangement is ‘employment’ ask yourself these questions about the proposed intern:

  1. Will they have actual responsibilities (as opposed to just observing)?
  2. Will their workload be similar to a paid employee?
  3. Will the intern replace a paid employee?
  4. Will the intern have administration duties?
  5. Will the intern collect coffee orders?
  6. Does your business rely on interns for ongoing duties?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, they are assisting your business, not learning, so it is likely that your unpaid interns will actually be employees and hence entitled to minimum Award rates.

Even if you will genuinely have unpaid interns at your workplace, they should have a contract (although not an employment contract) covering that fact and requiring them to maintain standards such as confidentiality, returning company property at the completion of the placement etc.


For further information in relation to any employment related issue or any business/commercial law matter, contact McKillop Legal on (02) 9521 2455 or email help@mckilloplegal.com.au 

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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