Unpaid internship – legal?

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This topic contains 2 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Chris Jarvis 2 years, 8 months ago.

  • Author
  • #627

    Snow leopard

    I’m looking for an internship at the moment and a lot of them seem to be unpaid. Is that really still legal? If so, it’s pretty shoddy. What can we do?

    • This topic was modified 2 years, 8 months ago by  Snow leopard.
  • #681

    Stewart McDonald

    I’m Stewart McDonald, MP for Glasgow South.

    I wanted to answer here because I’m currently trying to get a Private Members’ Bill through Parliament on a similar issue – unpaid trials.

    People trying to secure any form of work deserve to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect – and have full protection of the law to ensure they are not exploited.

    Whilst my Bill currently focuses on unpaid work trials, I would urge you to lobby your local MP to raise awareness of this issue and also ensure they attend the debate on March 16 2018 and vote in favour of my Bill.

    You can find out more about the Bill here, and find out who your MP is here.

  • #687

    Chris Jarvis

    Hi, I’m Chris Jarvis. I’m a data analyst now, but five years ago I did a three month internship at Sony. It was supposed to be an unpaid internship, but halfway through I realised that was illegal so tried to get them to pay me. Here’s what happened.

    This was soon after I graduated in Game Design. At Sony I was doing 3D environment art for the video game Killzone Mercenary. To start with they said they would cover travel expenses so that I could afford to drive there. It was a four hour commute so it was quite a lot of petrol money.

    At the time I didn’t think that type of internship was illegal. I thought companies could offer experience in exchange for peoples’ time, and there was nothing untoward or illegal about it. I didn’t think what I was doing should have been classed as employment.

    Of course I also thought it was a great opportunity to get some experience with a world-leading games developer.

    Halfway through the internship, the fuel payment stopped. At this point, I was broke. I tried to talk to the HR department but I wasn’t getting any replies. It later turned out to be just because the guy from HR had been on holiday.

    But because of that, I started looking into what my rights were. And I found that I wasn’t actually doing an internship, I was working full-time for free.

    So I let them know that I should have been classed as an employee and getting the minimum wage.

    They said I wasn’t an employee.

    Then I tried to raise a grievance with Sony but they refused to accept it. They tried to tell me I wasn’t an intern, I was a volunteer. They sent me a lot of case law where people working for charities had taken the charities to court for minimum wage disputes and not won.

    But I knew the law for people interning for charities was different from people interning for companies. So I tried to get them to send me some cases which referred to companies which made profit, not charities. And of course they couldn’t do that.

    After the internship ended, it became clear they were trying to scare me into not doing anything about it. So I had to decide whether or not to pursue it.

    I was totally broke, living with my parents and relying on them to help me survive. And obviously the whole thing was a lot of stress and worry. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

    I decided to try and ask for the minimum wage for the time I worked, just out of principle.
    Part of it was that I wanted to do whatever I could to stop the same thing happening to other people.

    I found a law firm willing to work pro bono (without a fee). If that hadn’t happened I’d have had to pay my legal fees out of my own pocket straight away, which of course I couldn’t do.
    The firm were Leigh Day. They were on the phone whenever I needed them, and gave me loads of really good, practical legal advice, so I felt lucky to have found them.

    So we started legal proceedings to take them to court for not paying the minimum wage.

    Next, Sony sent me a non-disclosure agreement. They wanted me to not tell anyone, including friends and family, and to agree not to report them to any government body.

    I couldn’t sign that because I already had reported them to HMRC. So I went back to them and told them that.

    All the time, Sony were sending out a lot of letters to the lawyers; it seemed like they had a whole team of people working on it to stop it going any further. They were using quite threatening language about the consequences if I continued, with lots of suggestions that they could take money from me if I continued down this path, which was quite stressful.
    It took a lot of conviction not to just sign the non-disclosure agreement and just end it there and then.

    We got as far as setting a date for court. But separately we were looking at going through an arbitration process, and that happened before the court date.

    At first in the arbitration they still wanted me to sign the non-disclosure agreement. If I had signed it I wouldn’t be able to share this story.

    But in the end we dug our heels in and they backed down, and in the end they agreed to pay.

    Soon after that – I think it was the next day – a courier arrived with a cheque for £4,600.

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