Under Irish law, there is no legal definition of an intern. Although internships are regulated in United Kingdom and United States, there has been no governmental legislation put in place in Ireland to ensure rights and obligations of both the business and hired intern.
Some fundamental concerns businesses face before offering an internship include whether or not the intern is deemed an employee of the business and if the said intern is entitled to be paid during their time at the company.
Below we look at important factors to consider before engaging interns:
Whilst there is no legal requirement to have an internship agreement, it is often a valuable way to clearly define duties and responsibilities of the business and the intern. It should be clearly stated which tasks will be undertaken by the intern, the duration of the internship, whether the intern is to be paid or offered expenses. It is also important to note in the agreement that the intern is not an employee of the business, however, should it come to it, employment tribunals will often overlook this point (see point below).
Is the Intern an Employee?
There can often be confusion as to whether an intern is deemed an employee of a company based on duties carried out. Generally, an intern will become involved in learning about the running of the business. Often, interns are given specific work to complete, however some may only shadow employees within the business.
It is imperative to recognise that, depending on the work carried out by an intern and the relationship established between the two parties, there may be a possibility for the intern to be considered an employee of the company by an employment tribunal or courts. In such circumstances, an intern would be entitled to the same legal protection and rights as established employees in the business. Such rights include annual leave, a cap on hours that can be worked, an entitlement to be paid minimum wage and minimum notice of dismissal.
When assessing whether the intern is an employee of the business, the below factors should be considered:
· The level of control exercised by the business over the intern
· The extent to which the intern is integrated into the business
· If there is an obligation for the business to provide work, and in return the intern to perform such work.
Should Interns be Paid?
Depending on activities carried out, it could be required that a business has an obligation to pay interns, under a contract of employment, the current minimum wage of €8.65 per hour. A contract of employment under the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 is defined to include a “contract whereby an individual agrees with another person to do or perform personally any work or service”.
Businesses should be aware that if an intern is doing work of value for the company, and has a similar level of supervision and responsibility as the rest of the workforce, the intern has the right to be paid the national minimum wage. However, if an internship is purely educational or an intern is shadowing employees then the issue of payment is less likely to arise.
If the business wishes to hire an intern on an unpaid basis, it is advisable that the internship is short and educational, and that the intern does not replace a former employee.
In all circumstances an intern should be compensated for reasonable expenses incurred during the internship.
Training should be given to an intern to introduce them to relevant policies and procedures of the business. Although an intern is not an employee, it should be clearly explained that the intern is to comply with established policies and procedures within the company.
Most importantly, the business should be aware of the health and safety legislation and its obligations to interns. If taking on interns is a regular occurrence, it is advised that reference is made to interns in the company’s risk assessments and safety statements.
Protect Confidential Information
It is imperative to make interns aware of confidential information and the extent of their obligations to protect such information they may have access to. With the ever increasing online sharing of personal information, it is essential not to underestimate the value of addressing the protection of confidential information in the intern’s induction. A document should be signed by the intern confirming an understanding that sharing or using confidential information is inadmissible during the course of and beyond the termination of the internship
Protect Intellectual Property
Finally, the company should ensure that any intellectual property produced by an intern during the internship is protected and that the business asserts ownership over such property. It may be best to include a clause to this effect in the internship agreement or have the intern sign a more comprehensive agreement.
The contents of this article are necessarily expressed in broad terms and limited to general information rather than detailed analyses or legal advice. Specialist professional advice should always be obtained to address legal and other issues arising in specific contexts.