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Intern on Work Experience Held Not to be Entitled to National Minimum Wage

Facts: The Complainant was an unpaid intern with the Respondent as part of work experience for his university degree.  The Work Experience Agreement between the two parties set out that the placement would be unpaid, and the Complainant chose to undertake same. The Complainant submitted that he carried out the same functions and responsibilities as a Level 1 Technician and therefore should have been paid for the entire duration of his placement. This was the basis of his complaint under the Payment of Wages Act, 1991 (the “Act”). The Respondent’s position was that the purpose of the internship was to provide the Complainant with work experience, which he received, and that the Complainant was of little value to the business until towards the end of the placement.

Decision: The Adjudicator decided that it was clear that the Complainant was not employed under a contract of employment as would be necessary for a complaint under the Act, nor did the Respondent have the same expectations of the Complainant as it would have of a paid employee. The work experience was completed as part of the Complainant’s degree and the Adjudicator was satisfied that he gained the experience required by the college.

The Adjudicator concluded as follows:

“…it is clear to me the complainant was not employed under a contract of employment, with all the attendant obligations on both parties that are involved in such a contract.” He found that the complaint did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Act and was therefore not well founded.

Takeaway for the Employer: In this case, the Work Experience Agreement that specified that the internship was unpaid was a legal arrangement where the internship was part of a course that the Complainant was pursuing. Employers should note that for such an arrangement to apply, the intern must be in full-time education. Another situation in which an internship may be unpaid is when the intern is solely partaking in “shadow” work – where the intern is purely observing the work going on in the company. Employers should be aware that in most other circumstances, interns are entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage.

Link  – https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/cases/2022/july/adj-00035495.html

Authors – Hannah Smullen, Jenny Wakely and Anne O’Connell

08 August 2022

Anne O’Connell Solicitors

19-22 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2


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