There has been a stark reminder to employers over the dangers of their obligations in relation to the National Minimum Wage today. The reminder comes after the news that the names of 100 companies have been handed to HM Revenue and Customs by Employment Minister Jo Swinson for reportedly using unpaid interns in paid roles. The companies in question now potentially face criminal prosecutions for breaking employment law as it is unlawful to use unpaid interns to fill full-time positions that would be subject to national minimum wage rules.

This serves as a serious reminder to employers when recruiting interns and work experience people. The law states that whilst companies are able to take on people in unpaid work experience positions, where the job role extends to the hours and duties that would be expected of a paid employee, or the position lasts for a long time, the individual must be treated as a paid employee. This not only means that the employee must receive pay in line with National Minimum wage requirements (currently £6.19 for those aged 21 and over), but also all of the other requisite employment rights and benefits afforded of other employees of the company.

With youth unemployment still at an unprecedented level, there is a danger that this news could put off employers from taking people on in work experience positions. Work experience placements are a vital way of providing young people with invaluable experience of the workplace and in the vast majority of cases, where the law is followed, short terms placements – both paid and unpaid – are perfectly legitimate.  If employers are at all unsure as to their obligations, they should consult an employment solicitor at the earliest opportunity, preferably before the position is taken up.

If you require advice on employer obligations, the National Minimum Wage, and/or a review of your organisation’s written agreements with work experience or other staff, please do not hesitate to contact us for advice.

By Victoria Mitchell,
Employment Law Solicitor