Work experience & internships

Should the person get paid?

Unpaid work experience and unpaid internships that are not vocational placements are okay as long as the person isn’t in an employment relationship. People in employment relationships are employees of a business and entitled to:

How do I tell if someone’s an employee?

You can use the below indicators to help work out whether a work experience participant or intern is an employee:

Reason for the arrangement

Is the purpose of the work experience or internship to give the person work experience or to get the person to do work to help with the ordinary operation of the business? The more productive work that’s involved (rather than just observation), the more likely it is that the person’s an employee.

Length of time

Generally, the longer the period of the arrangement, the more likely the person is an employee.

Significance to the business

Is the work normally done by paid employees? Does the organisation need this work to be done? If the person is doing work that would otherwise be done by an employee, or it’s work that the business / organisation has to do, it’s more likely the person is an employee.

What the person is doing

Although the person may do some productive activities, they’re less likely to be an employee if they aren’t expected or required to come to work or do productive activities.

Who’s getting the benefit?

The person who’s doing the work should get the main benefit from the arrangement. If a business or organisation benefits from engaging the person, it’s more likely the person is an employee.

Example: Unpaid internship

A local council has advertised an internship program for high school or university students interested in government processes. The internships have been advertised as unpaid positions and students are allowed to select the hours they spend at the council office over a 2 week period.

The council is careful to make sure that the role is mainly observational and there’s no expectation that the students will do productive work. The students are getting the main benefit from the arrangement.

In this example there’s no employment relationship and the interns don’t have to be paid.

Example: Paid internship

Jonathon is a final year accounting student. He agreed to do an unpaid internship with an accountancy firm and was promised a job once he graduates.

Jonathon attended the firm for 3 days a week. He prepared customer tax returns and company financials. The firm charged clients for the work he did.

Although Jonathon had agreed not to be paid, he did work that would have otherwise been done by a paid employee. This indicates an employment relationship existed. As such he should be paid for all the hours he worked.

jobactive National Work Experience Program

jobactive is the Australian Government’s way to get more Australians into work.

A person looking for work who is genuinely taking part in the National Work Experience Program through a jobactive provider is not an employee. They’re doing an Approved Programme of Work under Social Security Legislation.

The National Work Experience Program gives a person looking for a job short-term work experience to help them get a job.

Find out more about the National Work Experience Programme.

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