I am currently completing an unpaid internship at a fashion company. I have a contract for 6 months, however I was told this could be extended, and I am currently in my 5th month here. I am supposed to be paid in travel and lunch expenses however I have been having problems with the company, in that, for the past 2 months I haven't received my expenses, which obviously is making my, already difficult, living position even harder (as in I already don’t get paid, and now not receiving my expenses is causing me to live in my overdraft)

I have recently learnt that in the UK there is a law, and employment rights, that states an intern can be classed as a worker if they are promised future work, or I believe, are providing a service that isn’t done by anyone else at the company. I wasn’t promised future work, however I was told there is a very good chance of my getting hired at the end of my internship, which is why I have stayed for so long; and also I am currently, and have always been, the only person doing my job at the company - I am the only designer and my designs have been used to make the clothing and have then went on to be sold. And workers are entitled to at least minimum wage.

Is there anything I can do? I am currently looking for other jobs but so far I haven't been offered anything else, as I really can’t afford to carry on working for free. There isn’t a HR person at my company at the moment and the person I am in contact the most, my manager, is the director of the company, and therefore the one who I am kind of against. I have spoke to him on multiple occasions regarding me potentially be took on as a full time employee, and I have emailed and spoke to him regarding my expenses and I always just get told that he’ll pay them, but never does.

What can I do now? I have heard that I can open a work tribunal, or even contact Acas, but how do I do this? Is there anything I can say or do to my boss before I do this? Is there a way to write a formal letter of complaint to my company for example, saying that I know my employment rights and kind of saying that if he doesn't do anything abut it himself that I will go to a higher source of help, such as Acas? How could I word this?

So far they owe me over £200 in expenses and I believe I probably am owed 5 months worth of minimum wage. My question is: how can I approach my boss regarding my situation? I would like to write a formal letter but I need help on how to word it before I do anything else. I am looking for other jobs at the moment, but I would like advise on what I can do currently.

  • 1
    If you want to know what your legal rights are, you need to talk to a lawyer.
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 12:22
  • 9
    You do not have a current job. Just tell them that if they don't compensate you, you'll be unable to continue providing your services due to your financial situation. If they don't offer you a job then, they won't offer you one at all.
    – user29390
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 12:49
  • 3
    @Roland I do have a current job. This is a job. I have a contract which states that I come here to do work. I work 37.5 hours a week. I provide a service to a company which they wouldn't have without me. I came here to get some advice. Please can I get some constructive help on my situation, rather than comments telling me to find another job. It doesn't help.
    – Juliette
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 12:59
  • 14
    A job is paid. Even if you get expenses, that's not payment. You "work" for free. I believe you should leave immediately if they don't pay you. Your contract would be invalid and void in most European countries, but you'll have to discuss that with a lawyer.
    – user29390
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 13:04
  • 22
    "I provide a service to a company which they wouldn't have without me.". Then you're NOT an intern. An Internship is a training position where you are mentored by more experienced people, and you're not allowed to do any significant client work. (Check with your attorney). You're being exploited.
    – PeteCon
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 15:54

6 Answers 6


You are being exploited.

You should stop that immediately. Unpaid Internships only make sense, if at all, when they are part of your education. That would require you to have a Supervisor that knows more about your work than you do.

Currently, you are not only hurting your own finances, you are also destroying the Job-market for everyone else in this field.

Have a meeting with your boss an tell him that you require a written offer of a follow up job and payment of all outstanding expenses in one weeks time. If they are unable to provide this you are forced to pursue other opportunities, and may be unable to complete your interneship.

If they do not comply they probably have no intent in playing fair towards you anyways, so you next steps should be:

  1. Consult a lawyer to see what money can be salvaged

  2. Get another job immediately. Even if it´s flipping burgers at minimum wage, its better than loosing money each day.

  • 6
    +1 but I suggest talking to a lawyer before taking this course. There are quite a few law offices (apart from Acas) offering initial consultations for free, according to Google. As far as waiting a week, I would stop going there completely (Effective today...) if I weren't being paid, but that's up to the OP.
    – rath
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 16:35
  • 1
    @rath: I basically agree with you, but on the slight chance to turn this around to the positive, OP may be better off first to try an inofficial solution. Technically, she did agree to the terms - even if they may be unlawful an she is clearly the weaker party here - always best to try being firm and see what you can get with an honest conversation, before trying to litigate.
    – Daniel
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 16:49
  • @Daniel Thanks a lot for your advice, I'll try everything you have said and contact Acas tomorrow.
    – Juliette
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 17:14
  • Also every additional day counts on the CV.
    – Phil M
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 17:55

You can get some expert advice free from ACAS. Call 0300 123 1100 Or read https://www.gov.uk/employment-tribunals do note that you don't have to go all the way to tribunal to get their advice Edit to add: are you getting anything valuable from the internship in terms of marketable experience or skills? If not, leave. If yes, use it to get another job


NB: I am not a lawyer and this in no way constitutes legal advice

From what you've described it does sound very much like you could be considered a "Worker", possibly even an "Employee" under UK employment law (see here) and if that were determined to be the case then yes they would owe you the minimum wage (including back pay) in addition to your outstanding expenses.

In the comments you mention contacting ACAS - they really are the best place for you to start. See here for how to go about doing just that.

In terms of what you do during the meantime - well personally I'd sit tight until you've spoken with ACAS, they will be able to provide you with advice as to what to say (if anything) to your current 'employer'


Here is what I find interesting about your story.

You have been designing products that have been sold by the company, and in which the company has profited from your work. In a standard employee-employer relationship, any work produced by the employee belongs to the company. Even though the designer could be listed on patent applications, there is no guarantee of royalties or profits payed to the "inventor" while under the umbrella of this employee-employer relationship.

This is from an Ireland source, but the general concepts may apply to you:

Generally, save for certain exceptions, the person who creates IP is the first owner of it and can decide how it’s used, if at all. This includes contractors. However, one of the exceptions to this rule, under Irish copyright, industrial designs and (less clearly) patent laws, is that any work made by an employee in the course of employment belongs to the employer, unless otherwise agreed. Therefore, the two crucial factors in an employer/employee IP dispute are (1) whether the employee is in fact an employee; and (2) whether the works were done in the course of employment. (Source)

My question for you is this... who owns the product designs you have created?

Have you ever signed paperwork granting your employer license or ownership on any of your designs? Has he issued copyrights on your work?

Your employee could have been sneaky enough to anticipate this and get you to sign paperwork on your first day that covers the letter of the law regarding ownership of work you do during the internship.

Internship vs Employee

Do you have a contract?

The major question that could disqualify you as an employee: are you required to take this internship as part of your higher education course work?

There is also an exemption for "work-shadowing" that could apply if your manager is also a designer AND claims he is the sole creator of all of your designs (to void the issue of you not doing work).

What to do?

Before you do anything else, I would recommend that you gather as much evidence as you can regarding the fact that you created those designs. If there is any collaboration or alterations (which I would expect that there would be), then your manager could at least claim partial ownership. In fact by providing you the space and materials, he does have a claim even if he never was involved in the actual design.

By gathering evidence including copies of emails you may have a chance at proving your involvement in your own designs — but it would probably take a court to require your manager to pay the true worth of your designs possibly in the form of royalties.

If it does go to court it would probably be cheaper for your manager to pay all of your back wages and then claim that you were an employee.

What do you want more: Employment or Brand (name credit on published designs)? What is more valuable for your next job?

  • +1 This was my first thought as well - quite apart from the minimum wage salary expected by the OP, who owns the intellectual property for the designs she make whilst "working"
    – pwdst
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 17:56

Everyone is advocating a legal response. I agree with that. However in the meantime it would appear that you didn’t mention actually talking to the company about your work and grievances.

Your immediate point of contact should be your supervisor, and if that fails, escalate; HR, supervisor’s manager. State how your work is being used in production and should be paid, back expense as well.

Going through this process will also give yourself a paper trail of trying to solve the problem with the company. If you were to approach the Gov’t right now, there would not be as much documentation supporting your cause if you did.

I’ll get back to this post later when I have with a draft letter.

  • I have previously emailed and tried to speak to my manager regarding both my expenses and about being took on as an employee and I never really get an answer. For example, I went and spoke to him on Tuesday, but he said he didn't have time to talk and that he would email me. I the didn't get an email.
    – Juliette
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 14:44
  • It is hard to demonstrate a record paper trail with just verbal conversations. It will get bogged down into a he said, she said, situation.
    – Bluebird
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 18:31

A contract defines an agreement on an exchange of interests and goods. It does not sound like there is any exchange in your current "internship" situation since you are the only person working in your facility and thus the usual offered good in an internship, experience, is no longer to be had at the company. You are not working as an intern but ass

That's bad enough as it is, but your boss promising to pay your expenses and not even doing that means that the company does not even hold up their non-end of the "deal".

This company is either legally or morally bankrupt.

My gut feeling, of course to be verified by a lawyer, is that the "contract" is of rather limited worth and you'll be able to quit this "internship" any time at all. Getting your expenses back should also be a no-brainer.

However, getting backpay for the time you did not previously complain about will likely be tricky, to say the least. The labor bureau might penalize them for such contracts when notified but it's unlikely you'll get to see money going backward.

However, what may very well be worth checking with a lawyer is whether indeed the contract is to be considered overall void for a lack in exchange of consideration. If that is the case, it will affect any non-compete clauses which means that you can offer your services to customers you dealt with while at the company.

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