By Roger Bishop

Applied Human Resources, Inc.

Summer is almost here and a lot of companies will start considering using summer interns. This can be a great learning experience for students who want to see what actually goes on behind the scenes of business before they graduate. Actually, interns are available to you all year, not just the summer, but the employer needs to know the rules established by the Department of Labor (DOL).

Unpaid Interns

For companies, interns can be a “double-edged sword.” However, companies need to know and understand the “guidelines” the DOL has established. The guidelines are a few and simple, however, consider closely the benefit to your company if you plan to utilize unpaid interns. Violation of the guidelines can be a costly learning experience for employers if they treat the interns as employees.

For example, unpaid interns can work only 10 hours a week and the 10 hours must be in a learning capacity similar to a school or trade school setting. Most colleges and universities give the interns class credit for the experience they gain. Supervisors need to understand that the benefit of the program must be for the unpaid intern – not the company.

There may be instances where having an intern actually creates a disruption to the company’s operation since the intern has a learning curve and pulls regular employees away from their job duties.

Before the internship starts, the unpaid intern should understand that there is no promise of employment and there should be no expectation of wages during the internship.

Companies that truly want to offer the benefits of an internship should have a training outline similar to what regular instructors have as a course outline. The training outline should show, at least weekly, what will be covered and the desired outcome benefiting the intern.

Companies must limit the hours the unpaid intern works even though the intern is willing to work more hours, and not be paid, just to receive valuable experience.

If a company uses an unpaid intern to do the work normally performed by an employee, the intern must be paid at least the minimum wage as provided for under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Not only will the employer have to pay the intern (employee) at least the minimum wage for violating the FLSA, but the employer may also be fined for non-compliance of the FLSA. The DOL distinguishes between a trainee and an unpaid intern in the sense that trainees are considered employees and paid.

Paid Interns

A valuable investment for a company may be a paid intern for a particular department. A large number of students are often interested in becoming an intern. A position summary may be available for an internship and is similar to a job description that explains areas the program will cover.

Competition for internships with some of the leading companies is highly competitive and may require the candidate to prepare a video and explain on camera why he/she wants to intern with the company.

The law does not limit a paid intern to a specific number of hours of work. The college or university may set the requirements concerning the number of hours interns work, but the paid interns generally have greater flexibility. Not only do the paid interns receive wages, but many receive college credit for the internship.

Paid interns are treated significantly different from the unpaid intern and may often expect an offer of permanent full time employment after their internship ends. Even though paid interns must be paid at least the minimum wage, this is often a benefit to the employer as the intern is learning not only about a specific field but is also learning about the company.

A paid internship can be a stepping-stone into a corporation and may include trips to the corporate office, health benefits, eligibility to join the company credit union, retirement plan and accrual of vacation not to mention broader access to other departments within the company.

Regardless of being paid or unpaid, the intern and the sponsor or person in charge of the intern should have periodic meetings to discuss the intern’s progress and answer questions.

This can be a great opportunity to gain experience before graduation! L&C

Recommended Resource: Wage & Hour Site

Author Bio

Roger Bishop is a certified Human Resources specialist, and owns and operates Applied Human Resources, Inc. in Las Vegas. He specializes in helping small to medium size companies and non-profit organizations.



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