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Ready to step into the corporate jungle and leave your mark on the marketing landscape? We bet you are! But before you start applying for every marketing internship available, there’s a crucial point to consider – is the marketing internship you’re applying for lawful? 

Making sense of the internship maze can be as complex as decoding the latest social media algorithm. However, fret not, because we’re here to shed some light on the lawful vs unlawful marketing internships game. As budding marketing hotshots, it’s essential to kick-start your career journey on the right foot, or should we say, the right ‘click’! 🖱️

When you’re just starting out, it’s easy to fall for the glitz and glamour of a ‘cool’ marketing internship, but some are not all they’re hyped up to be. Unpaid interns are one of the most exploited groups og employees and turning a blind eye to unlawful internships is like ignoring a badly targeted ad – it may seem harmless at first, but it adds up, and it’s how the not-so-nice guys keep getting away with it.

Simply put – there are a lot of dodge “employers” out there who knowingly hire interns in an unlawful manner. They may profit off your hard work, while you get paid in “exposure” (aka nothing). Not all unpaid internships are unlawful, and not all paid internships are lawful – so where is the line in the sand, and how do you know when you’re being taken advantage of, versus when you’ve landed a real opportunity?

Let’s unravel this together and make sure your first career steps are both confident and lawful. Let the adventure begin! 🌟

Purple graphic reads: The Golden Rule: If your are an unpaid interns and your "employer" is billing your time out to their clients - that is illegal. It is illegal for your "employer" to profit off your work while paying you nothing.

Marketing Internship Rules and Regulations: 

The information we’re about to give you is correct as of September 2021. These regulations do change from time to time and we’ll do our best to keep this article and the information in it as up to date as possible, but if in doubt, please seek professional advice! 

Paid Internships: 

Paid interns in Australia are entitled to the same rights as regular employees, which include the national minimum wage, breaks, and protection from unfair treatment or termination. If an intern is doing productive work that benefits the business (rather than just observing or learning), they are generally considered an employee and should be paid accordingly.

Unpaid Internships: 

Unpaid internships are legal in Australia, but only under specific conditions. They are typically part of an educational course or vocational placement and should primarily benefit the intern, not the business. These internships are usually for a short period and involve tasks that provide a learning experience for the intern rather than significant productive work for the business.

Put simply: The business you are interning for is not allowed to charge for your time or make a profit from your work if you are not getting paid. If they are charging your time out to clients for an hourly rate and not paying you in return, then that is unpaid labour, and illegal. 

Vocational placements: 

Unpaid work may also be undertaken as part of a vocational placement related to an educational or training course. These placements are lawfully unpaid if they meet all the following criteria:

  • There must be a placement
  • It must be a required part of an education or training course
  • It must be authorised under a law or an administrative arrangement of the Commonwealth, a State, or a Territory

If you are doing an unpaid internship as part of your university course, then this would be considered a vocational placement. Under this arrangement, the employer is allowed to have you work on paid client projects – as long as the learning outcome for you as the intern outweighs the benefits to the employer. 

If this sounds a bit murky – that is because it is. It is a bit of a ‘grey’ area that usually gets overlooked because vocational placements are usually short term. That being said, if you are finding yourself doing repetitive tasks day in and day out in your unpaid vocational placement/internship, and the employer is charging their clients for your work, then this would likely be considered to be unlawful. 

Work Experience & Trial Periods: 

Unpaid work experience and trial periods are legal if they are merely observational or for a very short period to demonstrate the worker’s skills. If these extend into periods of productive work, they may be considered employment, and the person should be paid accordingly.

This includes when an employer asks you to complete a task or small project as part of the recruitment process. There is not a lot of information available as to what is considered a ‘small’ or ‘reasonable’ task or project – but we encourage you to discuss this with your prospective employer before you agree to the trial. In our opinion, anything more than a day’s worth of unpaid work is unreasonable, and would require justification from the employer. 

There is also another grey area with work experience and trial periods or projects – what happens if you complete the trial project and do not get offered the job? Does the employer get to keep the work you completed? Are they within their rights to use your work, even though they have not paid you for the work? 

This is more of an ethical question and it is an area that we recommend discussing with your prospective employer before you accept the trial period or project. Ask them what they plan to do with your work if you are not chosen for the position, and negotiate terms that you are comfortable with. 

This might include an agreement that they attribute the work to you if they do use it, so that you may include the work in your portfolio, or it may mean that you retain ownership of the work unless they either employ you or pay you for it. 

Again, this information was accurate as of September 2021. For the latest information and to ensure compliance with current laws and regulations, please consult with a legal professional or check the Fair Work Ombudsman website or other relevant government resources.

Group of young professionals wait in a line nervously awaiting a job interview

Lawful versus Unlawful Marketing Internships in Practice 

Still a bit confused? Here are a couple of examples of lawful versus unlawful internships to help you spot red flags when searching for a marketing internship. 

Lawful Internship Examples:

Educational Internship: 

As part of my university degree in marketing, I landed an unpaid internship at a digital marketing agency. This eight-week program was designed to immerse me in the industry, allowing me to observe and learn under supervision. 

Even though I was not paid, it was lawful because I was gaining educational experience and not significantly contributing to the company’s bottom line.

Paid Internship: 

I was thrilled when I was offered a paid internship at a marketing firm. They gave me tasks similar to a regular employee – like managing a small client’s social media campaign. Because I was doing meaningful work, they paid me at least the national minimum wage, making the arrangement completely lawful.

Unlawful Internship Examples:

Unpaid Work Disguised as an Internship: 

I was offered an “internship” at a marketing company where I was expected to work full-time hours and handle significant responsibilities, like running a marketing campaign. Despite my considerable contribution to the company’s profits, I wasn’t paid. 

Even though they called it an internship, this arrangement was unlawful, as I was essentially an unpaid employee.

Extended Trial Period: 

A PR agency offered me an “unpaid trial” period that would last two months. During this period, I was expected to work as a regular employee, creating press releases, managing client relationships, and so forth. 

They promised me a paid position at the end of the trial period. But this long, unpaid trial was likely unlawful, as it was more like regular employment and should have been compensated accordingly.

Remember, these are hypothetical scenarios and should be taken as illustrative examples. Always consult with a legal professional or the Fair Work Ombudsman if you have doubts or concerns about your specific situation.

Young marketing professional faces camera with serious expression

Know Your Rights

Alright future marketing moguls, we’ve ridden the waves of lawful and unlawful internships together, and now it’s time to paddle back to shore. By now, you should feel empowered with the knowledge to navigate these waters confidently. Remember, starting your career journey on the right track means knowing your rights and standing up for them.

Just as you’d question any social situation that doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to question an internship that sends your spidey senses tingling. In this corporate jungle, knowledge is your shield and confidence is your spear. Use them wisely and don’t let anyone make you believe you’re worth less than you are.

We know it can be daunting to speak up, especially when you’re just starting out, but doing so not only helps you but also future interns who might find themselves in a similar situation. It’s the ‘domino effect’ for good. 

And hey, what could be more fitting for a marketer than setting trends, right?

Remember, you’re on the cusp of an exciting journey into the world of marketing, armed with your education, passion, and now, the awareness of your rights as an intern. So step into the industry with your head held high, ready to not just learn and grow, but also to make it a better, fairer place for everyone who follows in your footsteps. You’ve got this! 🚀

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