The death of a young Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) intern in August highlighted concerns over the long-hours culture in the world of City banking. Moritz Erhardt, a summer intern at BAML, was found dead at his apartment in East London during the course of an apparently gruelling internship.
The young man’s death sparked heated speculation that it was related to the excessive hours he was required to work, although the exact cause was not confirmed at the time.
Do the Working Time Regulations Not Prevent This Type of Incident?
According to the European Working Time Directive, implemented in the UK by the Working Time Regulations, a 48 hour week is the established working time limit. The Working Time Regulations also provide for statutory paid leave, rest breaks during the working day and special provisions for young workers. In addition, there are provisions in relation to night workers preventing them from working more than 8 hours in every 24 and requiring that health checks are carried out on a regular basis.
Despite the existence of this legal framework, it is possible for employers and employees to opt-out of the working time provisions and exceed the limit of 48 working hours per week. Virtually all front line employees in highly competitive environments such as City banking will opt out of the 48 hour limit.
How Does this Affect Interns?
As noted above, opting out of the working time regulations is common practice in the City particularly in the banking world because competition is extremely fierce. People struggling for a job position have little choice but to sacrifice their time in this way even if it is just for an internship that leads to a certain career path or networking opportunities with well-known professionals.
As a result, employers are free to take advantage the ambition of young people seeking to impress their mentors and bosses. Therefore, despite the regulations, wannabe bankers are pushed to work to their limits. The more hard working and flexible they are the more possibilities they are likely foster to get hired by these global banks and finance companies following internship and graduation.
Highly ambitious young people will therefore continue to do their best in order to prove their dedication, commitment and energy even if it means being exhausted from working all night long without proper sleep or meals.
Do Employers Bear Any Responsibility for Interns’ Welfare?
Employers have statutory obligations towards their employees and interns, including a general legal duty of care. Under that duty of care employers are obliged to take reasonable steps to ensure they protect workers' health, well-being and safety. Failure on the part of the employer to comply with its statutory obligations or legal duty of care can lead to civil actions, criminal prosecutions and fines.
It should also be noted that workers also bear some responsibility for their own health. However, whether they are truly free to make their own choices and fight for their rights in such demanding and highly competitive environments is open to question.
The death of Moritz Erhardt has generated renewed discussion regarding the UK’s approach to the existing Working Time Directive. Firms should remain aware of their responsibilities and employees should ensure that they protect themselves from unnecessary harm. For more information or advice about employers’ duty of care or any harm that has been caused to employees, contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.