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The Workplace Rights of Interns

The most important thing to remember is that all interns have rights in the workplace, although these may differ according to the nature of the internship schemes.

The advice contained here will at least give you a good oversight of where you stand, in relation to a variety of key issues.

We've tried to ensure that this advice is as accurate as possible, but it is still worth checking further, either with your union or from a specialist agency.

Key Questions

Do interns have any rights at work?

All 'interns' in Ireland have basic employment rights, including the right to a safe working environment, data protection rights, protection against discrimination, the right to adequate breaks and holidays and the right to join a union.

Some employers may think that because someone is an intern they have no employment rights. That is incorrect. An employer cannot deprive you of your rights merely by describing you as an intern. It does not matter how your role is described or how the post was advertised, you have a right to:

  • protection from excessive working hours
  • adequate breaks and rest periods
  • annual leave
  • public holidays
  • protection from sexual and other types of harassment or discrimination
  • data protection
  • fair procedures
  • join a union

My internship was advertised as unpaid. Does this mean that I have no right to the national minimum wage?

Eligibility for the national minimum wage depends on the actual nature of your work and relationship with the organisation providing the internship. It is not enough for your employer just to claim that you are an 'intern' or to require you to sign a contract saying you have no right to the minimum wage - you cannot sign away your right to be paid the national minimum wage.

Your rights as an intern depend on the facts of your situation, what happens in practice in the workplace, who decides what you do and what you are expected to do by your employer.

As an intern - provided you are doing work of value to the employer, have a similar level of supervision and responsibility as the rest of the workforce - then you are likely to be entitled to be paid at least the national minimum wage regardless of what title your employer has put on you .

But it is important to note that if you are on a Government Intern or Work Experience Scheme - that scheme may be exempt from minimum wage laws - then different rights to payment apply.

I feel I'm being bullied or harassed in my internship, what can I do?

As an intern you are covered by the organisation's Dignity at Work policy and other relevant employment rights, such as the right not to be harassed or discriminated against.
Bullying is repeated inappropriate behaviour that undermines your right to dignity at work. It can be done by one or more persons and it is aimed at an individual or a group to make them feel inferior to other people. Bullying can be verbal bullying, physical bullying or otherwise and it can take many different forms such as:

  • Social exclusion and isolation
  • Damaging someone's reputation by gossip or rumours
  • Intimidation
  • Aggressive or obscene language
  • Repeated requests with impossible tasks or targets

The Employment Equality Acts 1998 - 2008 place an obligation on all employers in Ireland to prevent harassment in the workplace including to prevent discrimination and harassment of Interns. Harassment, including sexual harassment, that is based on any of the following 9 grounds - gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race or membership of the Traveller community - is a form of discrimination in relation to conditions of employment.

I am expected to work very long hours and I'm feeling exhausted - isn't there a legal limit on working time for interns?

Interns have legal protection against excessively long hours and overwork and are covered by working time rules on:

  • entitlement to rest breaks during the working day
  • a limit on weekly working time,
  • a minimum daily rest period
  • minimum weekly rest period
  • paid annual leave,
  • public holidays
  • extra protection in the case of night work (including a right to free health assessments

There are much tougher rules for 16 and 17 year old workers. Excessive working time has been shown to increase the risk of developing mental illness, heart disease, diabetes and a range of other illnesses. All work and no play can also seriously damage your health.

As an intern, do I have the right to Public Holidays?

Interns are entitled to Public Holidays.

There are nine public holidays in Ireland each year. Public holidays in Ireland (as in other countries) may commemorate a special day or other event, for example, St Patrick's Day (17 March) or Christmas Day (25 December). The list of public holidays in Ireland each year is as follows:

  • New Year's Day (1 January)
  • St. Patrick's Day (17 March)
  • Easter Monday
  • First Mondays in May, June and August
  • Last Monday in October
  • Christmas Day (25 December)
  • St. Stephen's Day (26 December)

You are entitled to paid leave on the public holiday or one of the following alternatives:

  • A paid day off within a month of the public holiday
  • An additional day of annual leave
  • An additional day's pay

As an intern, do I have the right to Annual Leave?

Interns are entitled to four weeks paid holidays during the year. Under Irish law on working time, interns earn annual leave entitlements from the time they start their internship. Where the internship is for a period less than a year there are different ways of calculating your annual leave entitlement these can be a bit tricky but a good rule of thumb is that if your internship is full time and last for 6 months then you are entitled to two weeks paid annual leave. For further information see this guide.

I'm worried that some of the things that I'm being asked to do might be dangerous. Do interns have any safety rights?

Employers must comply with health and safety laws and these laws apply to all interns. These laws are there to protect you, your colleagues and visitors to your employer's premises. As well as ensuring that you are not in danger from physical hazards, they also offer protection against stress and bullying.

All interns are entitled to work in environments where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled. Under health and safety law, the primary responsibility for this lies with employers. As an intern you also have a duty to take care of your own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by your actions. Health and safety legislation requires employers to inform you of the risks, give your training and safety equipment (you cannot be charged for this) and to involve you in consultations on health and safety.

If you believe you are being asked or put under pressure to work in an unsafe way ask for a copy of the Safety statement and speak to the Safety Representative or the workplace union rep about your concerns. Also the Health and Safety Authority inspects workplaces and acts on complaints you can contact them on 1890 289 389 - http://www.hsa.ie/

If you have suffered an injury at work, you can seek compensation from your employer by making a personal injury claim through InjuriesBoard.ie.

What if I am sick while on an internship?

Interns cannot be required to be at work if they are sick. Usually employers require notification of sickness and a letter from your doctor (usually) after the third day of sickness absence.

Your rights to payment should be laid out in your contract and your rights to retain your social welfare payments are laid out in the various schemes. If you have difficulty accessing social welfare payments you can contact a Congress Unemployed Centre for help with getting your entitlements. The Community Welfare Officer of your Local Health Office can assess your situation and make payments.

Do I have a right to a reference at the end of Internship?

There is no general right to a reference in Ireland. Some Government employment schemes such as the Jobridge Internship Programme provide that the intern is entitled to be given a reference.

Interns do have data protection rights and your employer as 'data controller who holds information about you' must:

  • get and use the information fairly;
  • keep it for only one or more clearly stated and lawful purposes;
  • use and make known this information only in ways that are in keeping with these purposes;
  • keep the information safe;
  • make sure that the information is factually correct, complete and up-to-date;
  • make sure that there is enough information - but not too much - and that it is relevant;
  • keep the information for no longer than is needed for the reason stated; and
  • give you a copy of your personal information when you ask for it.

What can I do if I have a problem with my internship ?

Dealing with problems at work can feel intimidating. If you think that your employer is mistreating you or is not providing you with your rights there are number of sources of help around.

Trade Unions

One of the most effective forms of protection in the workplace is the trade union. If there is a union in your workplace consult with them.

If you don't know if there is a union in your workplace or need more information, use our online internrights to get help and a steer on what other organsisations help with your situation.

Maybe we can help, contact us at congress@ictu.ie.

I'm an intern. How can I get involved in improving the situation for all interns?

Many interns don't know their rights, and may be afraid to stand up for them for fear of losing that crucial good reference. Trade unions are campaigning to make internships better. You can help us by

  1. telling us about your experiences
  2. signing up for our intern network

These links will help you find out if you are eligible for Government Internship Schemes