Should I work for free?

When you’re young and don’t have a lot of work experience you might be tempted to do unpaid work to prove you can do the job.

And that’s ok, just don’t get ripped off.

An unpaid work trial is fine if your prospective employer is just checking your ability to do the job, but not fine if you are doing productive work that benefits the business. Here’s a couple of examples using Barry the hopeful Barista to help you understand your rights.

Example 1: Barry answers a job ad

Barry sees a sign in the window of a funky coffee shop advertising for a barista (that’s a person who makes the coffee BTW). The owner tells Barry he’ll need to pour a few coffees before he’ll be offered any paid work.
no-problemThe owner invites Barry for an interview and instructs Barry to make a flat-white showing three different milk designs. Barry makes the coffee and is offered a paid job as a Barista.

WHY is that Ok? Barry was only demonstrating the skills needed to do the job

no-way-2The owner gets Barry to work for three hours in the coffee shop making coffee for customers. At the end of the shift Barry is offered a job, but is told that the first shift is a freebie.

WHY is that not OK? Barry was doing productive work that benefited the business and he should have been paid.

Example 2: Barry offers to work for free

Barry approaches a funky coffee shop he loves and asks for a job. When the boss says no Barry tells the boss that he is the best Barista in the Southern Hemisphere and willing to work a three hour shift for free to demonstrate his awesomeness.
no-problemThe boss agrees and Barry begins a three hour shift but about two hours in the boss tells Barry that she doesn’t think it’s going to work out and Barry goes home. He is not paid.

WHY is that Ok? Barry had volunteered to showcase his skills and the employer sent him home when she realised his skills weren’t to standard.

no-way-2The boss agrees and Barry is so super-awesome he works for six hours instead of three. The boss says she’s impressed but Barry but will have to  wait until someone leaves before he can have a paid job and suggests he keep working for free until then.

WHY is that not OK? Barry has proved he can do the job, he should be paid for all future work.


If you’re a new worker or looking for your very first job be very careful when someone asks you to work for free. I strongly encourage you to visit the government’s Fairwork website for new workers or check out their factsheet on unpaid work trials.

If you need any help or advice, a resume or a written job application please get in touch today. Wishing you all the best in your job search.

Melinda Irvine
+61 438 409 779 (AUS)
http://melirvine.com.au
Check out Mel Irvine on Facebook Check out Mel Irvine on Linkedin Check out Mel Irvine on Twitter
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