Legal Minute: 6 Important Tips for Hiring Unpaid Interns
So you’re a new business owner in need of personnel. Thank goodness for unpaid interns willing to trade in their time for experience. Before you set your eager new intern to work, here are a few things to keep in mind to avoid any missteps.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor and the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement, there are certain standards that employers must follow when taking on unpaid interns. These requirements are intended to ensure the intern is receiving a valuable learning experience, and not just providing free labor.
In order to determine whether a person is an employee or a non-employee (intern), there are six factors that must be considered by for-profit businesses. If all factors are not met, the intern is legally an employee who must be paid minimum wage, earn overtime, and receive all other protections guaranteed to employees by Federal and State laws.
A recommended way to comply with this factor is to write a policy for the internship program outlining the educational goals of the internship and the training that will be provided to reach those goals. The policy should be distributed to interns at the start of the internship.
Again, having a written policy for the intern to receive upon the start of the internship allows the intern to see the ways in which he or she will hopefully benefit from the experience.
This is not to say an intern cannot perform any work. An intern may perform tasks that another employee would normally do if the intern is closely supervised while completing the tasks. This interpretation assumes that the intern is not boosting the employer’s overall productivity because the supervising employee is teaching, instead of performing his or her own tasks.
An internship program should always be designed to benefit the intern and any benefit to the employer is incidental, not the other way around. Since learning comes from doing, there is inevitably going to be some benefit to the employer, but it should never outweigh the benefit to the intern.
An easy way to satisfy this factor is to have all interns sign and date a document that states he or she understands that the completion of the internship program does not entitle him or her to a paid position.
Noncompliance with the above can result in the intern being classified as an employee, which entitles him or her to wages, and could also result in litigation and/or penalties against the employer. Remember, unpaid interns are great for startups, but the secret to keeping them great is in the six factors.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is presented for informational purposes only, and should not be taken as legal advice. Before acting on any information presented in this article, you should consult an attorney regarding the facts of your specific situation. We would love to hear from you, so please feel free to contact us for a consultation.
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