Have you already hired your interns for the summer? Are you planning on making the experience meaningful and educational for you and them both? Not only is it important to make sure your interns do more than get coffee, it’s also the law. Even if you have the best intentions for your summer internship program, if you’re not following the Department of Labor’s regulations, you may be crossing the legal line—especially if your interns aren’t paid.
Paid internships are primarily regarded as regular employment and subject to the same rules, such as paying minimum wage and overtime for more than 40 hours worked per week (in some states overtimes kicks in at more than eight hours a day or work).
Unpaid internships must meet The Department of Labor’s six criteria to be legal:
1. The internshipmust be similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience must be for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer providing the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
Remember, the more the work experience is based on and similar to a classroom structure, the more the work will be viewed as an extension of the worker’s education. If the intern is learning skills in an industry that can be carried to other employment settings rather than just the job at your business, the internship is more likely to be viewed as educational training instead of just employment.
Don’t use unpaid interns to perform functions that are more part of the business’s operations (such as filing or answering phones) than skill training. The DOL considers these tasks as substituting for regular workers, which means the intern will need to be paid.
If your intention in hiring interns is to get free or cheap labor, you’re going to run into legal trouble if you don’t pay your interns. If you are truly trying to teach valuable skills in your industry, be sure you meet the six criteria for unpaid internships.
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