Two Australian businesses have recently been fined for exploiting workers with unlawful work experience and internship programs. The two companies were slapped with significant penalties by the Fair Work Ombudsman for underpaying or denying payments for the employees under the guise they were on an unpaid internship or work experience program.


Knowing whether an unpaid internship, job placement or work experience program is lawful or not comes down to whether the person is in an employment relationship with the business or organisation. While each situation is assessed on a case by case basis, there are several indicators to look out for to help determine whether an employment relationship exists and whether the unpaid work experience or internship is likely to be unlawful. These include:


The reason for the arrangement:

If the purpose of the work experience, placement or internship is to give the person work experience it is less likely to be an employment relationship. However, if the person is doing productive work that helps with the ordinary operation of the business rather than just observing, learning, training or skill development then they may be considered an employee.

Length of time:

The longer the period for the arrangement is, the more likely the person would be considered an employee. Shorter arrangements are typical for a legitimate work experience or internship program.

Significance to the business:

If the person is doing work that would normally be done by a paid employee or it is work that the business must do, then it is more likely that the person is an employee.

Who’s getting the benefit:

The person doing the work should be the one getting the main benefit from the arrangement. If the business or organisation is getting the main benefit from having the person conduct work for them, then they could be considered an employee.


If you’re thinking about offering an unpaid internship or work experience program at your business, ensure it is lawful to avoid any potential consequences.

For advice regarding unpaid internships or work experience, please contact us on (08) 9316 9896 or



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