Businesses, like yours, that employ people, without the intention of paying them, should be careful that they are not in breach of employment laws regulating the space of unpaid work. It’s important you understand the legal circumstances that allow for this to occur. An employment solicitor would be the right person to speak with to get this information.

Can students work for free during an internship?

Students can make valuable employees, especially as interns. Not only are they passionate about entering the workforce, they also bring a fresh set of eyes and an innovative approach. 

There are many circumstances in which unpaid work is legal, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman. Particularly when the unpaid work is in exchange for skills, knowledge and experience in a certain industry. If your business is found to be in breach of the Fair Work legislation, you could receive fines in excess of $50,000. For this reason, it’s crucial that any unpaid employment arrangements do not fall outside the law.

On top of this, internship programs must have insurance and some sort of internship agreement that details the terms and conditions of the internship, such as expectations, duties, intentions etc.

In which circumstances can interns be paid?

As an intern, whether or not you’re paid may be contingent on which of the following 3 working arrangements you fall into:

  • Business Assistance

If you’re being required to assist the business in various ways (both the menial and the meaningful), it’s more than likely an employment relationship will be established and you will be entitled to pay. This will depend almost entirely on the type of work you’re being asked to do.

  • Getting the Industry experience

If, on the other hand, the function of the employment is for the intern or worker to primarily observe the inner-workings of the business, as opposed to performing the various tasks involved in the running of the business, this will probably be work that can be unpaid.

  • The length of time

The amount of time they ask you to work will be a significant factor in whether you receive pay or not. The longer they keep you working at the business, the more likely you’ll be entitled to pay. 

What about trials?

Despite any rumours you may have heard about trials being unpaid, or paid less, or pay being dependent on not getting the job, the truth of the matter is that a trial must always be paid. This is because an employment relationship is created during the trial.


Speak with an employment law specialist to gain a better understanding of your entitlements. If you feel like you have been unfairly denied pay during your time working somewhere, call LegalVision on 1300 544 755 and get a free quote for legal advice.

Lachlan McKnight
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