Should work experience be paid?
A number of businesses have recently changed their policies on paying work experience employees following a strong public backlash on the practice of receiving free work from those eager for experience.
In a high profile case this March, sandwich chain Pret A Manger was one of those forced to change its policy due to threats by a strong backlash by customers. 16-18 year olds were invited to work at the brand, who started the initiative due to concerns of a major talent drain once Brexit is fully passed through, and applicants would be paid in sandwiches if successful.
Following negative coverage, the business changed their stand point due to how passionately people felt about it and potentially taking advantage of younger people. However, in legal terms, work experience users are rarely considered as workers. Companies who do decide to pay them are taking a morale decision rather than a legally necessary one.
So when defining if work is simply shadowing or a legal employment contract, verbally or otherwise, what is taken into account? Katy Meves, who works at law firm Shoosmiths, told People Management: “The label applied by the employer is irrelevant; a tribunal will look at the reality of the arrangements. It would not be unlawful to offer an unpaid position where it was genuinely a shadowing arrangement, but this is unusual – the nature of most work experience is that it involves work.”
Following the bad publicity Pret A Manger received may well put off many organisations starting or continuing similar initiatives on the basis that it makes them look bad. However, there is a shift in what is legally ‘work experience’, if it involves actually working then the person deserves to be paid and carries some power with a tribunal.
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