Teen Surprised to Hear He’s an Unpaid Intern, Which Is Why We Need to Teach Kids to Talk About Money

giphy (40)I used to hate the idea of talking about money. In the past, I’ve even accepted and started jobs without ever knowing how or if I would be paid, just because I couldn’t find a non-awkward way to ask about money. But after more than 10 years in the workforce and a whole lot of reading The Gloss’ old Bullish career- and life-coaching columns, I’ve changed my mind. Talking about money is an essential life skill that I wish I’d been taught as a teenager, because there are a lot of employers out there who will take advantage of a kid, and young people who intend to enter the workforce need to know how to negotiate a salary, and never to start a job unless they know specifically how, when, and how much they will be paid.

According to Yahoo News, one 15-year-old in the U.K. has reportedly been working a job at a Londis convenience store before and after school for 10 weeks to earn money to buy Christmas presents for his family, and he allegedly never actually asked what he was going to be paid for that work. Maybe he assumed he’d be getting minimum wage, but whatever his reasoning, he did not know the pay rate when he was hired, and then as the weeks went by the store never actually paid him. The shop was reportedly owned by family friends, and the teenager might have just figured they’d get around to paying him eventually. Now, with the holidays approaching, he wanted to buy the presents for his family, so he asked when he could expect to be getting paid. That is reportedly when the shop owners informed him that he wasn’t getting paid, because he was an unpaid intern.

That has to be devastating news for a teenager who has been working hard for months and expecting to be paid.

Unpaid internships are their own contentious issue, but whether or not one is in favor of them, the whole point of an unpaid internship is to get some fancy and useful work experience on one’s resume. Working part-time at a convenience store is normally the kind of job one takes on for money, not a boasting credit on one’s CV.

The teen’s mother says that the store manager was a friend of hers, and he agreed to take her son on as an intern and then give him a part-time job. (According to Metro UK, an intern taken on with a promise of future work is classified as a worker and legally must be paid.)

The shop owner told The Sun that he had never agreed to pay the teen, and he even alleges that it would have been illegal to pay the teen:  ”I said to [his mother] that he’s only 15. The law says he’s not allowed to work and because we sell alcohol, he’s not allowed in lots of areas, but he is allowed to follow people around.”

I’m not entirely sure why a shop owner would think a 15-year-old would voluntarily “follow people around” and work as stock staff from 5:30 till after 9 p.m. on school nights if not for money, but according to Metro UK, children over the age of 14 are allowed to work, so it’s not true that 15-year-olds are not allowed to be paid for their labor. The teen would not have been allowed to sell people alcohol, but the store evidently had enough other work for him to do that he thought he had a real before- and after-school job for several months. 

This story really sucks for that teenager, who spent several months working in a shop and has nothing to show for it except, probably, a newfound mistrust of employers.

Accepting a job without asking what it pays is a fast track to disappointment and being taken advantage of, and this teenager might have learned that lesson the hard way. When it comes time to teach my daughter about having a job and adult responsibilities, that will definitely include a section on negotiating a salary and talking about money, because that is a necessary life skill, especially for a young person who doesn’t want to be taken advantage of.

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