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When should you pay for work experience?

4 Mins

Under the law, interns are entitled to minimum wage as they are also defined as “workers”. Those who are not include students doing an internship for less that a year and work experience students under 16. Interns working for a charity, fund raiser, statutory body or other voluntary organisation, may be called volunteers. This too means that they may not receive payment. The only other group that attend work but are not deemed as workers, are those who shadow other staff to learn.

The intern in question, Chris Jarvis, claimed he understood he would be shadowing a designer and learning about the business. Instead, he was used as free labour, testing out a new game, and was therefore a “worker”. Supposedly, Jarvis approached their HR about the issue, also pointing out that his high travel expenses were not being covered, but to no avail. For unclear reasons, Jarvis decided his next step was to go to Revenue and Customs and then followed through by taking legal action against Sony.

On the surface, it would appear that the law was rightly upheld and Sony were in the wrong. The law does seem fairly clear and Sony’s claims that Jarvis was a volunteer would seem inaccurate, given that Sony is clearly not a charitable institution.

On the other hand, there is another way of looking at the word “volunteer”. He did, undoubtedly, agree to come and work for Sony for experience. He himself says he was a “fully integrated member of the team”, so there can be little question that experience was what he got. Most importantly, it was his choice to voluntarily do this work and he had the right to chose to stop doing it at any time if it was not to his liking.

Instead, he chose to become litigious. Jarvis may have come out a short term winner – he ended up managing to acquire the equivalent of £353.00 weekly for his 13 weeks internship – not too shabby for someone looking for some experience on their cv. On the more long term affects, I wonder how many employers will leap to put his cv to the top of their most wanted pile, experience or no. Most of us shy away from taking on those who have taken previous employers to tribunals and or hold forth about the unfairness of their treatment at interview.

But even overlooking what effect it may have on Jarvis’s own career – it will no doubt have a broader effect on companies that may have invited candidates in for work experience before and may now hesitate. If we could trust that the cases would be kept in the real world, philanthropic inclinations might still stand, but carried to extreme, someone “shadowing” could not be expected to make their own cups of tea leave without suing. 

Yet again, it is a case where the system rewards those who sue rather than take responsibility for personal choice and yet again, the losers will be possible interns in the future, who many a company will think twice about employing.

Jan Cavelle is the founder of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company.

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