For a very long time Bulgaria had no explicit legal framework governing the relationship between an employer and an intern. The lack of comprehensive legislation in place was a source of practical issues and uncertainties for both parties (e.g. with respect to the term of the internship, its termination, the consideration due, etc.). With an increasing need for clear regulation in the area, the Bulgarian legislator finally adopted the long-awaited internship amendments to the Labour Code.
What is the nature of the relationship between the employer and the intern according to the updated Bulgarian law? The intern is a type of employee since he/she is entitled to the same protections and has the same rights, obligations and liabilities as other types of employees. The difference from the traditional employment is, however, that the purpose of the internship agreement is to ensure that both the intern and the employer set specific goals and expectations for the internship. These goals and expectations are achieved through enhanced control of the intern by a supervisor overseeing the results and the manner in which the intern achieves these results.
The intern may be a person no older than 29 years as of the date of concluding the internship agreement who has completed secondary or higher education and has no prior professional experience in the chosen profession. The employer assesses the compatibility between the internship and the acquired education on a case by case basis. The internship is a process during which the intern puts into practice what he/she has already learned about the profession. This is the reason why the intern works under supervision, i.e. the intern is not only a subordinate of the employer (as is common for any employment relationship), but also an immediate subordinate of his/her supervisor. The dual subordination structure makes the intern's dependence on the employment relationship more intensive in comparison with other employees.
The intern's supervisor is appointed by the employer. The appointed supervisor will be an employee who has at least 3 years of professional experience in the area in which the intern aspires to get practical skills. Since the supervisor's responsibility is additional to his/her employment obligations, this separate duty has to be subject to an additional agreement (usually in form of an annex to the supervisor's employment agreement with the employer). This supplementary agreement is an agreement independent form the internship agreement and provides for:
- the supervisor's distribution of the working hours between the performance of his/her main obligations and the supervision;
- the additional remuneration for the assigned supervision duties; and
- the obligations of the supervisor during the internship process. The law does not provide for mandatory provisions for the content of the agreement between the employer and the supervisor, which in turn gives the parties flexibility in negotiating the subject and scope of the supervision.
The internship agreement can be concluded only once with the same person as after the internship the intern is no longer without professional experience. This one-off quality of the internship agreement distinguishes it from other employment agreements.
On the one hand, the internship agreement contains the general provisions of a traditional employment agreement, such as the title of the position, the amount of the primary and supplementary remuneration, the length of the working day and the working week, the length of the annual paid holiday, and other provisions. On the other hand, this type of employment agreement also includes specific arrangements relating to the manner in which the internship is carried out, the structure of the internship, the name and title of the supervisor, the length of the employment agreement (not less than 6 months and not more than 12 months), etc. The matters that are not governed by the internship agreement are regulated by the general rules for employment agreements.
It merits consideration that under Bulgarian law the intern is always entitled to remuneration. The employer owes the intern an employment remuneration in an amount that is not less than the minimum wage set for the country. In addition, like other employees, the intern has a right to social security.
The internship agreement is terminated with the expiration of the agreed term (6-12 months). The agreement may also be terminated in advance by either one of the parties by giving 15 days' written notice. Following the termination of the employment agreement, the employer certifies the outcomes of the internship.
The newly introduced internship legislation mainly eliminates the legal uncertainties faced by interns on their way to acquiring professional experience. However, the successful implementation of the newly adopted rules will also depend on the mutual efforts of the intern and the employer in providing the intern with professional experience and in enhancing his/her marketability as a specialist in the respective professional area.