The term intern (regardless of the job title in the contract) refers to a person who works in a company for a limited period of time to acquire practical knowledge and experience without undergoing professional training – for example, when a painter completes an internship at an art school or a dramaturge with the script department of a theatre. An internship therefore focuses on the acquisition of professional skills, knowledge and experience rather than on the performance of work.
A distinction is made between voluntary internships and compulsory internships. Compulsory internships are, for example, prescribed by universities as part of a degree programme. As a general rule, they do not constitute a training or employment relationship. If, however, a person completes a voluntary internship, an internship contract is concluded with the company that must largely comply with the Vocational Training Act. This means that certain regulations regarding the protection against dismissal are incorporated into the contract and it is ensured that the intern will receive adequate remuneration in spite of the fact that he/she has no professional experience and is still learning.
Interns have been explicitly included in the scope of the minimum wage legislation (see Information on minimum wage for employees). After a period of more than three months, voluntary internships must be remunerated at the minimum wage. Compulsory internships or job orientation internships are excluded from this rule.
What must employers in Germany consider when they work with interns from abroad? The purpose of the internship is decisive in regard to the questions of residence, employment law and social security. Of course, it is also important whether the intern is from an EU country or from a country outside the EU.
The Techniker Krankenkasse has put together a good overview in its Newsletter Ausland Juni 2015 (German language only). This newsletter contains information on the 120-day rule, approval by the ZAV, minimum wage etc. (German language only).
In Germany, there is the possibility to complete a “Volontariat” (a traineeship; the word is borrowed from the French “volontaire”). This means limited-term work in an institution which, in contrast to an apprenticeship, constitutes a training that is not regulated by law. Such traineeships are found mainly in public administration, in the charitable sector and in the cultural sector, for example in the art trade or in museums.
In the media sector, traineeships involve basic journalistic training in print, radio, PR and online media. Journalist positions are usually not filled without such a traineeship. Its organization is regulated by collective agreements - but only in this area! An editorial traineeship lasts between 15 and 24 months, there are fixed salary requirements and the remuneration is generally higher than that of an internship etc.