What is 'work experience'?

Work experience generally involves a student or recent graduate spending a short period of time with an employer, during which he or she has an opportunity to learn directly about working life and the working environment, often by "shadowing" an employee. Work experience is usually unpaid save for expenses.

What is an 'internship'?

There is no official or agreed definition of what an internship or intern is. However, interns tend to be graduates or undergraduates in their penultimate year of study who choose to join a structured programme of work. Internships tend to last longer than work experience, often lasting for months rather than weeks.

Do you have to pay for interns?

This will depend on what the intern is actually doing. If an intern (or indeed an individual on work experience) is expected to work set hours, carry out set duties and is actively contributing to the organisation, as opposed to simply work shadowing, they may be regarded as a "worker" and therefore be entitled to the national minimum wage. They would also be entitled to paid holiday and rest breaks under the Working Time Regulations.

Other rights to be aware of

Interns may also be protected by discrimination legislation and covered by the organisation's health and safety obligations.

The Institute's position

Interior design practices must make their own decision on whether to take on interns but should be aware of the possible implications of doing so in terms of employment law. They should also make every effort to ensure that any form of internship given is as beneficial and constructive as possible. Please click here for the Best Practice Code for High-Quality Internships, developed by the Gateways to the Professions Collaboration Forum, a government advisory group. 

The BIID recommends that if a practice takes on an intern it should have a written agreement confirming the relationship with the intern, with express terms that could include, amongst other terms, the non-payment or payment of wages, expenses, confidentiality and health and safety. Legal advice should, however, be sought on the terms and the most appropriate form of any internship agreement.

The BIID recommends that all interns are paid at least the minimum wage. This statement is for guidance only and specialist legal advice should be sought on individual cases.

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