When work experience is really unpaid work

There can be a fine line between giving work experience to help an applicant improve their CV or gain valuable insight into the working environment they want to work in and using it to shield unpaid work. Getting it wrong could result in a claim for the minimum wage being made and significant reputational damage to your organisation.

Even the largest organisation can get it wrong.  The BBC has been accused of exploitation following a job advertisement looking for seven candidates to work for free.

The role was as a volunteer for the annual Wimbledon tennis tournament, but the broadcaster has been criticised for the advert following the revelation that the workers would not be paid for their time.

A two-week contract to work 40 hours per week is on offer, with successful candidates receiving £15 a day to reimburse travel and food costs.

The advert was posted on the BBC careers website and said that candidates would be working behind the scenes at the All-England club, ‘running errands, general office duties, assisting commentators including delivering refreshments, meeting programme guests and distributing press releases’.

The BBC has now edited the job advert, removing a controversial requirement that ‘physical fitness is essential’. They have also clarified that the posting is for a work experience placement and is not a job.

A BBC statement said, “We have amended the original advert to accurately reflect the placements on offer – they are work experience and not jobs and are governed by strict rules, including paying expenses to cover food and travel costs.

“Work experience placements are limited to a maximum of ten days and never include activities that we would normally pay someone to do.”

The National Minimum Wage Regulations do provide for some exemptions. They include those doing work experience or an internship. A person is not entitled to the minimum wage if they are:

  • a student doing work experience as part of a higher or further education course;
  • of compulsory school age;
  • a volunteer or doing voluntary work;
  • on a government or European programme; or
  • work shadowing

Our Senior Associate Solicitor, David Scott, who leads Hethertons employment team warns:  “Knowing exactly what the role is and getting the wording right is crucial in the employment relationship. But it’s not just the contract of employment and staff handbook that needs to properly set out commitments and expectations, don’t forget your job advert, ‘job description’ and person specification.

“When offering work experience opportunities there is a range of rules and regulations to consider – it’s not just the national minimum wage.  There are additional health and safety requirements for younger workers and restrictions on hours that can be worked.”

“This need not prevent an employer from offering valuable work experience or internships.  If you have any doubts or concerns Hethertons can help guide you through the regulations.”