You may think that it isn’t your place to talk back as an intern in the face of workplace problems, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As an intern, you are considered a contract employee, and that comes with the right to be treated like a member of the workplace as well. Besides, knowing how to handle workplace disputes professionally is an important part of gaining real work experience too!
Workplace Communication 101
It’s important to establish healthy boundaries with your colleagues and supervisors at work. With constant conference calls, messages, and emails; flexible working hours, and ever-changing workplaces, it can seem difficult at times to figure out where to draw your boundaries. But being able to do so is crucial to maintaining a good work-life balance and ensuring you aren’t being taken advantage of.
Setting clear boundaries also ensures that your relationships at work don’t become all-consuming. This enables you to protect your happiness and well-being while feeling respected.
It’s a good idea to talk through boundaries in a thoughtful but clear way to help set a standard for mutual trust and respect. For example, if your co-worker constantly calls you on weekends for work – even though you’re not contractually obligated to work on weekends, let them know politely that it’s not office hours and you’ll attend to their requests first thing on Monday.
When clear boundaries are set but a co-worker will not leave you alone and it’s making you uncomfortable, it’s time to talk to HR about his or her behaviour because what you’re experiencing could be workplace harassment.
Workplace harassment takes many forms, from indirect discrimination to outright bullying. It may also be sexually motivated, which happens more frequently to female staff. Keep in mind that all types of workplace harassment are illegal! And not only will it affect an employee's productivity, comfort, and safety at work, it could also put the organisation in legal jeopardy.
So, if you witness a crime or experience harassment in the workplace, even as an intern, do consider reporting it if you feel like you can do it safely. Here’s what you can do:
- Try to resolve the issue with the harasser in a calm manner by speaking to them in a private setting. However, if the abuse is physical, do not approach your harasser!
- Consider escalating the issue to your immediate manager – unless, of course, your manager is the perpetrator.
- If your attempts to resolve the issue with the harasser fails, bring the issue to the attention of HR. If you can, provide evidence such as screenshots, texts, messages and eyewitness accounts.
- If the above three attempts fail, you can file a complaint to Industrial Court Malaysia, which can investigate the incident impartially. As an intern, you are protected by the Employment Act 1955.
What You Should Expect from Your Employer
There’s been plenty of debate regarding paid internships and how much interns should get paid in Malaysia. The sad reality is that interns are not covered by employment law in Malaysia for minimum wage requirements. This means that technically, companies don’t need to pay the minimum monthly wage to interns – up to RM1,500 per month as of 2022.
Nevertheless, internships are still a great opportunity for you to be exposed to your role in your preferred industry. To avoid settling for an unpaid internship, remember to ask about your remuneration with the company’s HR during your internship interview. The company may also offer interns other forms of compensation, such as meal or transport allowances.
However, remember that nothing counts unless it is in black and white. Read your internship contract very carefully to make sure the amount of your pay and other forms of benefits are stated clearly before signing up for your internship placement.
An internship contract is a legally binding agreement between an organisation and a student to define the terms of your employment and ensure that both parties are on the same page.
Be sure to file this document somewhere safe because it shows what you’re entitled to. If anything happens to you in terms of work, this agreement serves as proof to back you up in your argument – given that the relevant terms are stated in it.
Here’s what to look out for in an effective contract:
- Duties and responsibilities
Check if there’s a list of the core responsibilities expected from you during your programme, and see that the responsibilities are related to your internship role as conveyed to you during the application and hiring process.
As discussed earlier, if you’re doing a paid internship, the amount of the pay must be reflected in your contract. If HR mentions that interns are entitled to meal or transport allowance apart from your monthly pay, make sure that is also stated either in your contract or in an appended document/memo to it.
- Length of Internship
See that your contract includes the start and end date of your internship. It’s not uncommon for interns to get confused as to when their placement ends.
- Working Hours
In your internship contract, ensure that your expected working hours are clearly stated, whether it’s a full-time or part-time internship.