Student summer jobs: How to avoid being stitched up by unscrupulous employers

The summer’s approaching; exams will soon be out of the way. While a well deserved break might be the order of the day, the bank of mum and dad might feel that some productive employment - paid or unpaid - might be a better use of your time before you return to your studies in the autumn.

And let’s be honest, some extra cash would always come in handy, not to mention the effect it will have on enhancing your employability once you do need to start looking for a permanent job in a few years’ time. Having some work experience on your CV could be much more advantageous than a list of places you’ve visited on your gap year. 

While most employers will treat their employees legally and fairly - and that includes temporary staff - there are a few employers who will not. So what do you need to be aware of?

Unpaid internships vs paid employment

There has been a tremendous growth in the use of unpaid internships in the last few years. These offer a great opportunity for students to gain valuable work experience. However, you need to be wary of those employers who are using it as a way of getting free or very cheap labour and avoiding paying the National Minimum Wage.

To be a genuine internship it should be related to what you are studying in some way - it can involve work shadowing and is essentially voluntary. Unpaid internships can provide valuable training and experience and give you some useful contacts for when you are looking for employment in the future. If, on the other hand, you are doing “work” you are told you have to work set hours and it is unrelated to you course of study, it is likely that you are a worker or employee in the eyes of the law and should be getting paid the minimum wage.

These are the employment rights you should expect as an intern

You may also want to rate your internship experience here

Temp agencies

Registering with a reputable temp agency is a good way to find paid employment. However, by the summer they will be inundated with students seeking employment. Try and make contact with them earlier in the year and let them know what dates you are available, keep in contact and be as flexible as you can with regards to dates and the type of work you are looking for. Avoid any agency that asks you for a fee for signing on with a promise of finding guaranteed work, it is illegal and therefore you are more likely to lose your money than get a job. Be particularly wary of anyone offering attractive sounding opportunities abroad. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

National minimum wage

All employers have to pay workers or employees the National Minimum Wage as set by the government. The current rates are:

  • Under 18 years old: £3.72 per hour
  • 18 to 20 years: £5.03 per hour
  • 21 and over: £6.31 per hour

Employers can’t pay you less just because you are temporary, working somewhere else, or because you’ll get tips as part of your employment. The authorities have started to name and shame and impose substantial fines on employers caught paying less than the minimum wage. If you have been paid less than the minimum wage, politely point it out - it could be a genuine error if the employer thinks you are younger than you are.

Further advice can be found on the Government’s website

Tips

If, as many students do, you are working in the restaurant or hospitality industry the thorny issue of tips will come up. 

Unfortunately there is no legal obligation on employers to pass on tips to staff. There is, however, a Code of Best Practice issued by the Government which states that employers should have a clearly communicated and transparent policy. This suggests that between 70p and 90p in every pound of tips left should be passed on to the employees.

The very best employers will pass on 100 per cent. Ask your employer what the policy is for your own information, but also so that it can be explained to customers should they ask. You may even come across something called "tronc" which is a system that pools the tips so that they can be distributed fairly by a staff representative called a troncmaster. Make sure you ask for - and get - your fair share.

Health and safety

The last thing you need is to spend the summer in hospital as a result of an accident at work. All employers should give you a basic health and safety induction on day one and make you aware of any risks specific to their location or industry. If you are in a higher-risk occupation it is imperative that you have proper training and know your limits. Don’t take on any potentially risky job that you have not been trained for.

Tax  

Finally, it’s not just unscrupulous employers who can stitch you up. You are likely to find that you have paid too much tax. The PAYE system works on the assumption that what you earn each month or week will continue throughout the tax year, and you will be taxed accordingly. Make sure you contact HMRC when you finish your temporary job to claim any refund due to you.

How to claim back overpaid tax

Temporary work can be a valuable addition to your CV and good references from your employers can be very useful when looking for permanent positions in the future, but don’t let yourself be treated as a second class employee just because you are temporary. 

Brendan McCann is director of The HR Dept

Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Bob Dylan
art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Developer - Norfolk - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Software Developer - Norf...

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?