Most college students are off for the summer. Some can work, perhaps in the work segments they hope to enter. Others may seek summer internship, a program which may be attractive to employers.
However, as a program, internships are full of risks to employers. Employers get into trouble when they view unpaid internships as a way to accomplish work tasks, rather than as educational programs aimed at assisting students.
The Department of Labor has published – and enforces – six mandatory requirements for someone to qualify as an unpaid intern. We have room to discuss a few of them.
First, the training, even though it includes the operations of the employer, must be similar to that given in a vocational school. The closer the internship resembles an educational program the better. Toward this end, the employer should structure internships to provide the intern with an individual training program or tailor an intern’s tasks toward an educational goal. The student should receive ongoing instruction and close onsite supervision throughout the internship.
Second, the trainees or students do not displace regular employees, but rather should work under their close observation. An employer should not expect or entrust an intern to do the same work as regular employees. The presence of a student at the worksite cannot result in an employee being laid off, an employer not hiring a worker the employer would otherwise hire, or an employee working fewer hours than the employee would otherwise work.
Finally, students must not be entitled to a job at the end of the training. To ensure that the intern has no expectation of employment, the DOL recommends that an employer draft a written agreement with the intern stating that the intern should have no expectation of employment and should not presume any guarantee of employment after the internship. In other words, the internship should not be the de facto, unpaid, evaluation period of employment.
The requirements are stringent, and can be easily and inadvertently violated. Many employers, and especially for-profit businesses, obtain the benefits of an internship program and avoid its risks by paying the interns at least minimum wage and by paying overtime.