Employers are more cautious about unpaid internships as a result of the wave of successful litigation by individuals and collective actions in recent years. Some have altered their programs and opted to pay interns to avoid the expensive legal ramifications for unpaid wages, taxes, unemployment compensations, workers’ comp and so on.
Employers who continue with unpaid internships can help protect themselves by following these tips:
- Comply with the Department of Labor’s (DOL) criteria for unpaid internships.
- Be sure that training is general. Do not train for a specific task that provides an immediate benefit for the employer.
- Provide close supervision for interns and document what they are learning, even if it slows operations.
- Do not replace paid employees with interns.
- Set parameters for the internship: define its length, goals focused on training and education, the fact it is unpaid, and do not promise a job at the end of the internship. Have the intern agree to the terms in writing.
- Contact local colleges and universities about a cooperative program that offers course credits. While not a substitute for DOL compliance, it lends legitimacy to the unpaid nature of the internship.
- Repeat #1: Comply with the Department of Labor’s (DOL) criteria for unpaid internships!
If in doubt, pay the intern. In the long run, it will save money, time and headaches.
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