I have recently joined a small manufacturing firm as an intern as part of my college work experience. The company are well-respected and the team is extremely friendly, so I’m largely enjoying myself. However, I’ve begun to feel like I’m being taken for granted and seem to be spending more time making tea and sweeping the floor than doing anything relevant to my course. Are the ‘host company’ required by law to set me to work – especially as this is for an academic qualification? Would my college be able to take action?

There is generally no legal requirement to provide work, as long as wages (where relevant) are paid. If it has been agreed as part of the intern arrangement that a certain type or quality of work should be provided, it may though amount to a fundamental breach of contract for this not to be provided.However, if no financial loss is suffered as a result, and given that it's assumed the inter arrangement is of a short-term nature of fewer than two years, there is no effective legal recourse.

If the internship isn’t actually a requirement of your college course and is simply unpaid work experience, then the firm will be more restricted in the types of tasks it can ask you to do. Work placements of this nature can provide invaluable work experience to students, however that experience is limited to work shadowing activities rather than actual work, which would need to be paid. If this is the type of arrangement you have, this may explain why the firm has been allocating tasks to you that aren’t actual work tasks.

It might be worth you requesting a review meeting with your assigned mentor and asking for feedback on your performance to date, so that you can determine whether they have any concerns about giving you work to do, and what remedial steps you can take if any are identified. You can use the meeting to explain that you are willing to learn, keen to broaden your experience with them and would like to be given more responsibility. This might open up broader work shadowing opportunities than you have had to date and being more generally involved in day-to-day matters.

About two months ago, I badly broke my arm on holiday and was unable to work as a maintenance technician. I’ve now got most of the mobility back in my arm, and I feel like I could return to work and operate to my previous standard. My employers, however, have told me that they won’t allow me back for another four weeks, “just to be on the safe side”. My doctor has said that if I feel capable, I should be able to return to work, but this isn’t washing with my employers. In situations like this, who has the prerogative – me, the doctors or my employer?

Your employer has a legal obligation to protect your health and safety at work, and therefore has the right to require you to remain away from work in the event that it has genuine concerns regarding your fitness.

However, whilst your employer may be entitled to require you to remain away from work, you may be entitled to receive full pay whilst you remain absent. This will ultimately depend on the basis of your employer’s belief that you are not yet fit for work.

Where there is a reasonable basis for an employer to have concerns about an employee’s return due to the availability of evidence indicating that they are not fit (such as evidence from the company doctor, occupational health or the employee’s GP), it would usually be the case that the employee can be required to remain at home on sick pay (or nil pay if the right to sick pay has been exhausted) until the company is reasonably satisfied that they are fit to return. If, however, the only evidence available indicates that the employee is fit to return but the company is preventing a return, the employee would usually be entitled to full pay if the company requires them to remain at home.

I suggest ensuring that your employer is aware of your doctor’s view that you are capable for work, for example by obtaining a letter from your doctor to this effect. You should also ask the company to confirm the basis of its belief that you should remain away from work for the next four weeks. If this is not based on any medical evidence and you have provided the evidence from your doctor that you are fit, you should ask your employer to pay you at your full pay rate whilst you remain absent. Ultimately, if your employer refuses to allow you to return to work without any supporting evidence and/or pay you at your full rate, you could raise a grievance to enable the matter to be formally investigated and/or raise a complaint in the employment tribunal for your unpaid wages.

Recently, my employers have told us that they will be reducing our pay while we’re on holiday. As a rule, we on the shopfloor get 25-28 days per year, depending on length of service. Under the new arrangement, we’ll be given an extra four days each, but only receive 75% of pay for each day taken. They’ve given some excuse about cost-cutting, but that isn’t washing with us – it seems extremely dodgy, if not illegal, to not pay people for their entitled holiday, even if they do give us more time off. What are our options?

There are strict rules that are applied to ‘statutory holidays’, including in relation to the calculation of entitlement and the payment for such holidays.

‘Statutory holidays’ means holiday entitlement under the European Working Time Directive (WTD) and UK Working Time Regulations (WTR). Statutory holiday entitlement under the WTD is four weeks per annum (20 days per annum for an employee working five days per week).

The UK has implemented a more generous holiday entitlement than the four weeks required under the WTR, which provide for a minimum of 5.6 weeks in each holiday year for full time employees (inclusive of eight bank holidays), equivalent to 28 days per annum for employees working five days per week.

Holiday pay for statutory holidays must be calculated under strict rules, which will not allow for a reduction of pay for holidays taken. As a result of a number of court decisions on the subject, it is now clear that holiday pay for the first 20 days of WTD holidays in each year must include normal remuneration for the holiday period which will often include regular overtime, shift allowances, commission etc.

Holiday entitlement and pay for non-statutory holiday (i.e. holiday over and above the statutory holiday entitlement) is determined according to the employment contract agreed between the employer and the employee (and will be implied in the event there is no express agreement). Therefore, the treatment of non-statutory holiday can differ from the treatment of statutory holiday.
I note that your employer provides shopfloor employees with 25-28 days of holiday and I have assumed that this entitlement is in addition to the eight days of bank holidays that most employees are entitled to in England.