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Interns and Your Business - What You Need to Know

21 August 2014

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Formal internships are a relatively recent phenomenon in Ireland. In certain industries, however, and most prominently in tech and media, internships are already seen as the primary way for individuals to gain relevant work experience and to increase their employability in a competitive working environment. For businesses, internships are often a reliable and effective way of accessing talent. 

The difficulty for both businesses and interns in Ireland is that internships are unregulated here – there is no legislation governing such relationships. Unlike in the United States and the United Kingdom, no governmental guidance has been provided in Ireland to ensure minimum rights and obligations of the parties.

Key concerns for businesses are whether or not the intern is an employee of the business and whether the intern is entitled to be paid during the internship. We address these concerns and set out our top tips for businesses engaging interns. 

What is an intern?

Under JobBridge, the National Internship Scheme, an intern partaking in the scheme is specifically considered not to be an employee. Internships outside of the scheme, however, do not benefit from any such legal certainty.

Under Irish law, there is no legal definition of an intern. As internships are unregulated, one intern’s experience can vary greatly from that of another. In general an intern will spend time with a business for the purposes of learning about the day-to-day running of the business and the type of work the employees engage in. While some interns will be given specific work to carry out, other interns might only be given an opportunity to shadow employees in the business.

Businesses should be aware that, depending on the type of work carried out by an intern, and the reality of the day-to-day relationship between the intern and the business, there is a risk that an intern could be deemed to be an employee by an employment tribunal or the courts. In such circumstances, an intern would be entitled to the extensive legal protections and rights afforded to employees under Irish law. Such rights include an entitlement to be paid the national minimum wage, a cap on the number of daily and weekly hours that can be worked, annual leave and a statutory minimum notice of dismissal.   

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