For Employers

What is Legal?

Internships aren’t recognised by the Fair Work Act (2009). However, the role of an intern and the nature of the intern/organisation relationship has been defined by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Fair Work states that if your intern is performing productive work and contributing to the organisation in a meaningful way, you have entered into an employment relationship and they may be entitled to remuneration.

“If you require someone to perform productive work, or spend a shift in the workplace, then you are obliged to ensure they receive the same minimum entitlements under an award or agreement as your other employees.”[1]

You may be required to provide remuneration if you assign your intern specific tasks and deadlines whicy may indicate the work is more than observational.

The intern should be learning, the internship is primarily for their benefit, not for the benefit of your organisation.

“Stuart recently completed a Bachelor of Journalism and is looking for work as a journalist. Stuart responds to an advertisement to write for his local paper on a full-time basis for 3 months as an ‘unpaid intern’ to try and gain experience and increase his chances of employment. Since Stuart had completed his degree and the placement was not a requirement of his course, it cannot be considered a vocational placement under the FW Act. The paper advises Stuart that he will be given specific tasks and deadlines to complete that will assist in the production of the paper and that this productive activity will take up the majority of his time. This suggests Stuart may have been engaged as an employee and entitled to remuneration.

If Stuart mainly observed how the newspaper operated for a few hours a week over 2 weeks and there was no expectation of productive work for the business, it is unlikely that he would be considered an employee.”[2]

Remember - the intern is there to learn and not to perform the work of a paid employee. 

You can find more information on the legality of internships and student placements here:


How can you create a meaningful internship experience?

  • The best internships are clear about what they’re offering from the beginning. You and your intern should be clear on the expectations and duties of the internship as well as what they’ll be learning or gaining from the internship.
  • Talk about how it’s going - assign your intern a mentor and schedule regular meetings with a supervisor to evaluate both the internship and their progress.
  • If you can’t afford to pay your intern you might be able to provide a stipend, allowance for lunch or for a transport ticket to get them to and from the internship.
  • Assign the intern a mentor in the workplace who can share their industry experience - these relationships can often last past the internship and are excellent networking experiences.
  • Can you send your intern to meetings, conferences or events? They’re a great networking and learning experience and they’re opportunities to listen and learn about the industry without performing work that may entitle them to remuneration.
  • Have your intern experience all aspects of your organisation - rotate them around departments and assign them to different supervisors.
  • Keep the length short. A two-week placement or 1 day a week for two months is appropriate - enough for your intern to get a taste of the industry or workplace.
  • Were they excellent? You might want to keep their details on file for after their graduation, or consider them for casual, paid employment.
  • Check that your intern is covered for any OH&S issues that might arise. Speak with the Fair Work Ombudsman if you’re not sure.

Can you afford to pay your interns? Here’s a few reasons why you should:

  1. You’ll get the best talent if you pay - the top students will be competing for your internship if you’re paying (even if it’s only minimum wage!)
  2. You’ll get the widest variety of talent - many people (including those changing careers) can’t afford to work for free. If you pay, you’ll have access to talent that wouldn’t ordinarily walk through your door.
  3. Paid interns will often be more motivated as they’re being rewarded and valued for their work.
  4. You won’t be at risk of back-paying interns who were overtly benefiting your company. This is common in the US and has spread to other western countries like the UK and Canada.
  5. Paid interns can stay with you more days per week and for a longer duration because they won’t need to work elsewhere to support themselves.


Vocational Placements vs. Internships

Does this count towards their degree?

Unlike internships, vocational placements (i.e. formal work experience arrangements that are mandatory for your education or training) are recognised by the Fair Work Act. If you’re an employer in medicine, nursing or other vocational degrees like law, you may have to supervise students completing a portion of mandatory on-the-job training while they qualify as a professional in the industry.

While they won’t actually be covered by the Fair Work Act, you will still have to comply with other obligations like OH&S, discrimination and workers compensation legislation.

If you’re not sure where the law applies, check with the student’s university or Fair Work Australia.


Need more information?

Check out Fair Work Australia’s fact sheet online at:

Making the most of an internship: 

7 Ways to get the most out of an internship:





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