In light of recent news that Condé Nast are suspending their internships due in part to a couple of high-profile court cases, Charlie Ryan asks if it is ever a good idea for interns to sue:
It is a shame as this was always the way this was going to go once interns were being recognised as “workers”. There is a fine line between not paying someone and calling it an internship role where it is just a job being covered for the benefit of the organisation as opposed to where the individual gets some good experience which will contribute to their career in the future. The fact a case can even be taken is just not right. No intern is ever forced into doing the role and the interns need to be more choosy and commanding of what they are looking to get from the internship and leave if it is not living up to those expectations of delivering in any way.
Court cases have companies now running scared of taking anyone on in this capacity and it is key to the development of our young people who need to understand this journey, working for very little if anything to gain experience needed to ultimately allow them to get a better role in the future.
There are a couple of industries where interns do suffer, the creative industries come to mind, media and marketing, where interns as so glad to just be working in that company to be adding it to their cv, when they even approach about a paid wage 6 months down the line the company just gets in another intern, therefore these organisations should be controlled and limited in the number of people they can hire in a company in that capacity. Otherwise it is a way of just underpaying and getting a job done for nothing contributing to their bottom line.
I understand the need for interns to feel valued, but for those interns who feel that taking a case is the way to get their point across they are damaging not only the future for those who do see where the benefit in doing the work is, but their own chances. Would you hire someone who had taken a case as an intern? It is a worrying thought that individuals at this stage in their career thought taking a case is the way to go to solve a problem. These interns and individuals looking for work are not helped by the legal world who are continually pushing the rights of the worker. What about the rights of the employer, surely if there is a contract/ agreement between both parties about what each is prepared to do, why does the law have to say that is right or wrong? Now I know we have to protect those that are less able to defend themselves, but nobody has to enter into an internship and if you are unhappy with the terms you can leave at any point, so these cases, who have they helped exactly? I mean have they even helped the intern in any way, apart from maybe a bit of a short term payout?
This was a bad decision on Condé Nast´s part, unless they feel they are being continually unfair to workers and can’t change this which says more about them as an employer then anything else. Surely any company who was able to demonstrate good working practice wouldn’t pull a workforce in fear of what might happen in the future? Interns play a valuable part in the cogs of the working world and it is important this is an option that continues to be open to individuals entering the world of work to help them get experience and decide what their future journey may be.
I think part of the problem is there are not clear rules with what an intern needs to be paid and although these have become clearer over the last year, minimum wage seems a high amount to pay to someone where an internship programme was all about being educated in the world of work, therefore the company was having to compromise and train individuals where they wouldn’t see a return for some time. Setting this in line with minimum wage and recognising them under the term “worker” is what is allowing these rights and cases to happen. There needs to be a clear distinction where the term worker which has become so broad, doesn’t include the intern rules, but that there are rules to ensure companies do not abuse these.
But you can leave at any time as an intern and no intern should stay doing anything if it is not achieving what they want and rather then worrying about the law, why don’t they just think about what they are doing now and how that is contributing to their future. As I can assure you taking a case will be a hindrance to their career and will not allow them to ever become that “employee of the year” in the future.