Cefinn, Samantha Cameron’s fashion label, has recently come under fire for advertising an unpaid internship. It is reported that the workwear brand was looking for an intern to assist with marketing and PR and that in a (now-deleted) tweet it had been confirmed that the role was unpaid.

Under UK employment law, anyone classed as at least a ‘worker’ has the right to be paid the National Minimum Wage. The hourly rate for the minimum wage depends on a worker’s age and whether they are an apprentice and the rates change every April.  

Whether an individual is classed as a ‘worker’ depends on several factors including that an individual must turn up for work (even if they do not want to), that they personally perform the work as required by the contract or arrangement and that they do not substitute someone else to do the work.

Therefore, an intern can still be classed as a worker and is entitled to National Minimum Wage on that basis. There are some exceptions to this, particularly in relation to:

  • Students required to do an internship for less than one year as part of further or higher education;
  • Students who are still of compulsory school age;
  • Volunteer workers (if they are working for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund-raising body or a statutory body and don’t get paid, except for limited benefits such as travel for example); or
  • Those who are only shadowing work (i.e. if the intern is not carrying out any work and are only observing the work undertaken by an employee).

Cefinn’s intern advertisement reportedly required the intern to carry out tasks such as market research, sample management and production assistance. It came under criticism on the basis that the programme clearly did not fall into one of the above exempt categories and described a skilled job involving real work. On this basis, those interns should be paid the National Minimum Wage.

‘Worker’ status also gives rise to several other rights, including the right to be paid in respect of holidays and to benefit from pension auto-enrolment.

The quite public criticism of Cefinn serves as a useful reminder to all companies that legal obligations in respect of workers’ rights must be met.

If you have any questions about the rights that your company must comply with, please do not hesitate to contact one of our specialist employment solicitors.