In 2013, there was an onslaught of litigation involving high profile employers from Fox Searchlight Pictures to Conde Nast regarding the use of unpaid interns. Now that it’s internship hiring season, how can you put the right plan in place for bringing summer interns on board in a way that benefits everyone and keeps you out of legal hot water? Here are some recommendations from David Barron, an employment lawyer with Cozen O’Connor.
The number one risk arising out of an intern relationship is non-payment under federal and state wage and hour laws. For some intern positions, paying minimum wage and overtime makes sense and is the only way to lawfully structure a relationship.
Seek Out a Sponsoring Educational Institution
Develop a relationship with a university, trade school or other educational institution that will provide course credit for the position. This will go a long way to meeting the Department of Labor's criteria for a lawful unpaid internship.
Get it in Writing
Any unpaid internship should be documented in writing with an agreement satisfying the criteria used by the Department of Labor. Generally, this agreement should reflect that the intern: (1) won't be paid and will instead gain experience similar to what would be obtained in an educational environment, (2) is not entitled to a job at the end of the internship, and (3) won't displace any regular employee.
Limit the Number of Interns
Internships are supposed to be about learning the ropes, not a source of free labor. If your business relies on a steady stream of interns to supplement the paid workforce, that is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Place Interns with Generous Managers
Interns may not be full-time employees, but everyone deserves respect and consideration. In many of the high profile cases where interns have filed suits for unpaid wages, the interns have complained about the quality of the internship. While you don’t have to let Gen Y interns run your company, a solid internship is about much more than getting coffee. Make sure genuine learning experiences and mentoring programs are available.