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Issues to Consider When Hiring Summer Interns

Posted Tuesday, May 14, 2019 6:25 am

Summer is inching closer – are you thinking about hiring summer interns?  There are many benefits to a summer internship program.  A summer internship is like a summer-long interview to determine whether the potential new employee does good work and would be a good fit.  If you end up hiring your interns, they would already be familiar with the company’s processes, which would save time and money when they start as full-time employees.  A summer intern could also provide a preview of and insight into the next generation of the workforce, and help new managers learn leadership skills.  And of course, an intern could help alleviate the workload for your current employees.  Before you start hiring, however, here are some issues you should consider.

Paid vs. Unpaid?

One of the biggest questions you have to decide is whether you will pay your interns.  While free labor sounds good, it is not that easy to avoid the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  To determine whether an intern is an employee entitled to the protections of the FLSA, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) looks at who is the primary beneficiary of the relationship by considering the following seven factors:

  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

For more information, check out this HEC TV episode on unpaid interns and the DOL’s Fact Sheet #71:  Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act.

Tips for Unpaid Internships

If, after considering the seven factors above, your company decides to offer unpaid internships, here are some tips:

  • Consider putting an agreement in writing clearly stating the company’s and the intern’s expectations. The agreement should expressly state that there is no expectation of compensation and there is no promise of a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  • If your intern is a student, find out if they can get academic credit for the internship.
  • Be sure that any employee who assigns work to the intern understands that the intern has to be the primary beneficiary of the relationship.
  • Unpaid internships should provide ample opportunities for learning, mentoring, and training. If all you want the intern to do for three months is alphabetize the filing cabinet, you may want to revisit the seven factors above.

Harassment

In addition to the likely generational differences between interns and employees, we now exist in the post-#MeToo era.  Summer interns are on the low end of the power differential, which could lead to a greater risk of harassment, sexual or otherwise.  Make sure your managers and employees receive appropriate training in preventing workplace harassment.  Similarly, you may be providing interns with their first work experiences, which means they may need training on professionalism and respect in the workplace.  It is therefore equally important for interns to understand the company’s harassment policy and complaint procedures so they know how they are expected to behave and what to do if they witness or experience harassment.

Child Labor

If you are considering hiring younger workers, be sure to check out the following helpful links:

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