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Trial and error: working with interns, volunteers and work experience placements

Trial and error: working with interns, volunteers and work experience placements (Last Updated On: November 9, 2016)

The Fair Work Ombudsman released new resources in August providing advice on unpaid work. This is on the back of a report that showed unpaid work is on the rise in Australia as workers seek an edge in a tighter job market. Do you have interns, volunteers, or work experience students? Are you protected against a potential claim? Should they have been paid for their work?

With additional help now available for workers to know more about their rights with respect to unpaid work, what do you need to do as an employer to ensure you are protected?

Firstly, you should consider whether the work should, in fact, be paid. A typical question from our clients is whether staff need to be paid for a trial shift – and whether the employer needs to then go through the hassle of collecting tax and superannuation information. The reality is that if a worker is providing a benefit to your business, or doing work normally done by a paid staff member, then they should be paid, including trial shifts.

If you are genuinely offering an unpaid internship, volunteer or work experience role, you should manage their expectations right from the start. Clearly document that the placement is unpaid from the beginning. This will help prevent confusion or disagreement down the line.
In terms of the work you ask your unpaid worker to do, it needs to be of benefit to them rather than to the business. For example, the worker should be learning something new or making useful connections.

Other factors that will be taken into account are the duration of the internship and whether the work is normally done by a paid employee. Essentially, an employer can’t use someone who isn’t paid to do the work of someone who is paid, or keep someone on an unpaid basis for a long period of time. A week or two to make contacts and learn about the industry might be a great and genuine unpaid opportunity, but three months where the worker is producing material that’s normally done by an employee could expose you to penalties and the need to pay back pay.

Finally, some students require a vocational placement as a part of their studies. These are normally arranged with universities or vocational education providers and have separate requirements.
Failing to pay your workers is expensive. It can result in penalties of up to $33,000 per breach as well as the need to provide back pay. Can your business afford to be exposed to these sorts of penalties?

Employsure can assist you with contracts for your volunteers, interns, and work experience students to ensure the terms of their engagement comply with the law. Please contact Employsure on 1300 651 415.

By Louise Crossman – Employment Relations Consultant

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