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Unpaid interns and workers’ compensation

Unpaid interns are considered workers under workers’ compensation laws and are entitled to compensation for work-related injuries. If you engage an unpaid intern they must be covered by your workers’ compensation policy or self-insurance arrangements.

Am I an intern?

You are an intern if you are performing work without payment of wages to gain practical experience or to obtain a qualification, and you would be classed as a worker if you were being paid wages.

You are not an intern if:

  • you are paid
  • you volunteer with a non-profit organisation or a religious, charitable or benevolent organisation
  • you are a school or university student on work experience or have a vocational placement through a registered training organisation
  • you are providing unpaid assistance as a favour.

Vocational placements through a registered training organisation are excluded as WorkCover Queensland can enter into a contract of insurance with a registered training organisation for specific vocational training under the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 (Cwlth).

Am I the employer of an unpaid intern?

You are the employer of an unpaid intern for workers’ compensation purposes if you engage or host an unpaid volunteer who is not part of a school, university, registered training organisation or not for profit organisation-based work experience program. Refer to the examples below for practical scenarios.

What is my obligation as an employer?

An unpaid intern must be covered by your workers’ compensation policy with WorkCover Queensland or if you are a self-insurer, your self-insurance arrangements.

You must declare the number of unpaid interns when you renew your accident insurance policy with WorkCover Queensland.

Other accident insurance policies do not replace your obligation to have a workers’ compensation policy that covers your unpaid interns.

General advice about internships can also be found at


The following examples may guide your understanding of who is an unpaid intern. Whether they are an unpaid intern or not will depend on the facts of each case. It’s important to obtain legal advice or discuss your circumstances with WorkCover Queensland or your self-insured employer if you are unsure.

University students

Scenario 1 – vocational placement

Margaret is an engineering university student and one of her electives is a three month placement organised by her university at a host business. The placement counts as credit towards finishing her degree. Although Margaret is performing unpaid work, she meets the definition of a ‘student’ within the meaning of section 22 of the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (the Act). Margaret is not considered an intern.

Scenario 2 - work experience during study

Joshua is a law student at university and engages in an unpaid work experience placement in a law firm to gain knowledge and experience of the legal profession. The work experience is not a course requirement but has been arranged and approved by the university.

Although Joshua is engaging in unpaid work and is performing work a paid employee would usually do, Joshua meets the definition of a student within the meaning of section 22 of the Act and is not considered an intern. It is also important to note the Education (Work Experience) Act 1996 (Qld) states the university has an obligation to ensure a policy of workers’ compensation insurance is in place while Joshua is undertaking this work experience.

Scenario 3 – post graduate work experience

Ann recently finished her business degree and is looking for work as a business analyst. She responds to an advertisement to work as an analyst for six weeks as an unpaid intern. She wants to get experience to help her secure a job. She has already finished her studies and this placement isn’t required by her course. As this is a private arrangement between Ann and the company, she does not meet the definition of student within the meaning of section 22 of the Act. On this basis, Ann is considered an unpaid intern for workers’ compensation purposes.