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Double trouble for the Olsen twins

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The revelation today that a class action suit is being brought against the Olsen twins by disgruntled interns will come as no surprise to employers in the UK struggling to make sense of the various types of employment status and associated rights. In the UK, there is no legal definition of an “intern”, although internships appear to be on the increase as graduates look for ways to enhance their CV and stand out from the crowd.

A person carrying out a structured work experience placement who is paid for doing so is likely to be classed as a “worker”. This provides them with limited employment rights, including the right to be paid the national minimum wage. If this person is carrying out work usually allocated to an employee, then there is the possibility that they could even been deemed to be an employee themselves, which opens the door to enhanced employment rights, including the right not to be unfairly dismissed.

In November 2013 HMRC advised it would be sending out letters to 200 employers announcing spot checks to ensure the correct national minimum wage rate was being adhered to. As in the case involving the Olsen twins, the focus was particularly upon the fashion industry due to its heavy reliance upon interns. As London Fashion Week rolls round again in September, employers planning to recruit interns for this particularly busy time should be mindful of the guidance issued by HMRC, and seek legal advice to avoid costly claims in the Employment Tribunal. 

By employment law & HR support solicitor, Martha McKinley