I feel I'm being bullied in my internship. What can I do?

Have a look at our Harassment and Bullying section for general information on what to do.

As an intern, you are in a uniquely vulnerable position because of the power difference between you and the bully, and the opportunities for exploitation that this creates. You really need the internship to succeed, and the bully will know that. However, nobody should put up with bullying at work, and your organisation should operate a ‘zero tolerance’' approach to all bullying complaints.

Shockingly, the protection given by the Equality Act 2010 to interns from discrimination and sexual or other forms of harassment is particularly weak, as it relies on the intern first being able to satisfy an employment tribunal that he or she is a 'worker' entitled to employment rights. Genuine 'volunteers' have no right to bring claims in the employment tribunal under the 'work' provisions of the Equality Act.

Other possible routes to protection under the Equality Act for interns and volunteers include:

  • the vocational training or work experience provisions under section 56(6) of the Equality Act; and
  • the 'service user' provisions of the Act (Part 3 of the Equality Act).

You would need to take advice, for example from Citizens Advice or a Law Centre, if you wanted to take this kind of complaint further. A good place to start is a call to the Acas Helpline. Deadlines are short.

Some sectors of the economy are dominated by unpaid internships. Figures from the National Council for the Training of Journalists, for example, reveal that 83% of new entrants to journalism do internships, lasting on average around seven weeks, most of which are unpaid.

Bullying is more likely to flourish in organisations with large numbers of unpaid interns and you should give early consideration to joining a trade union active in your sector. Browse our Union Finder tool to find the union most suited to you.

The TUC Rights for Interns App has a facility for reporting poor quality internships, so that other students know what to expect. There are also specialist charities, such as Intern Aware, campaigning to end exploitation.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.