Unpaid Internships Can Carry Legal Risks: Here’s What You Need To Know
Whether they’re a current student or graduate, internships give young adults a chance to get their feet wet in their chosen careers, as well as gain some basic job experience for their resumes.
But while most companies have an intern at one point or another, not every one can afford to make it a paid position. This is where legal issues can arise. For instance, students need to be gaining something for their education and can’t be displacing or replacing paid staff members. Going beyond the permitted limits can result in litigation or fines. One such case, Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., had a number of ups and downs before being settled out of court.
Below, members of Forbes Human Resources Council strongly encourage paying students at least minimum wage in order to avoid problems. If an internship needs to be an unpaid program, however, here’s what they advise companies do:
- Consult With An Employment Attorney First
I believe that it’s unfair to try to extract labor for free. Students need work experience, and most need to earn money too (think PB&J). If you’re absolutely set on unpaid internships, the best approach is to work directly with the school where the internship is part of an academic course for credit, and the work performed is limited to academic goals. Consult with an employment attorney first! – Dr. Dale Albrecht, Alonos, Inc.
- Follow The Compliance Basics
The compliance basics for an internship are: One, it meets educational credit requirements; two, has a defined time frame and duties; three, has a designated supervisor to manage the intern; and four, the internship parameters are in the internship offer letter. It’s equally important to document the work performed, hours worked and to keep copies of required internship evaluations completed for the college. – Bridgette Wilder, Media Fusion
- Documentation Is Key
Ensure that your unpaid internship programs are for the benefit of the intern and not for the company. Documentation is key: Create a formal internship program that outlines the start and end date, whom their mentor will be, as well as a summary of key knowledge the intern should walk away with. By no means should an unpaid internship replace a full-time employee’s responsibilities. – Tiffany Servatius, Scott’s Marketplace
- Implement A Training Program For Managers
It is very important managers are trained on the true meaning of having a successful internship program. A great internship program ensures that both the intern and employer are rewarded and the time spent was productive. I recommend implementing an intern request form, followed up by a training program with a short quiz before approving your managers to have an intern. – Charece Newell, Sunspire Health
- Make It For The Intern’s Benefit
The safest way to ensure internships are legal is to pay interns minimum wage. However, companies offering unpaid internships should ensure that interns’ training is similar to what they would receive in an educational environment, and the experience is for the benefit of the interns, not the employer. Also, interns shouldn’t displace employees or be promised paid positions after the internship. – John Feldmann, Insperity
Article originally appeared on Forbes.