Does Your Company Have Unpaid Interns? Follow These Tips To Keep Out Of Court

Law Blog

There is a lot of controversy over unpaid internships these days. Beleaguered by lawsuits, some companies have chosen to settle with former interns rather than take the issue on in court, while others are still battling it out through a series of appeals. If your company offers internships, how do you keep out of the fray? Follow these tips.

1. Make sure that you understand the rules for unpaid interns.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has established 6 criteria that are used to determined if an internship can legally be unpaid. It's important to compare the circumstances of each internship position offered by your company to the published criteria carefully. The overall gist of the rules is that the position needs to be for the benefit of the intern, provide the intern with an educational experience, and not displace paid employees.

2. Do not hire interns for their unique skills.

It might seem like a win-win situation to get an intern who already has specialized skills that can be put to good use in your company: the company gets the advantages of the intern's abilities, and the intern gets real-world job experience that can go on a resume later. For example, you might consider hiring a prospective intern with graphic arts skills and put them to work designing a logo for a product. The intern would then be able to take credit for that logo later to other prospective employers in the future. Do that, however, and you will likely find yourself in violation of the law because you aren't providing an education for the intern but capitalizing on his or her skills instead.

3. Consider hiring interns through an agreement with local schools.

Getting the blessing of the local high school or university helps make the goal of the internship specifically educational. You may be able to establish a program that will give your interns school credit, but it isn't a requirement. What's important is that you work with the school to make sure that your interns receive an experience that everyone agrees is a benefit to their education.

4. Assign all unpaid interns a specific mentor or supervisor.

Too many unpaid interns find themselves essentially at the mercy of every paid employee on staff with no one person to turn to for direction or advice. That can make your interns feel overwhelmed and unhappy. It can also undermine the value of the internship as an educational experience. Having a specific supervisor or mentor helps ensure that each intern has a designated teacher and receives adequate training. It can also stop unpaid interns from being used for general grunt work by everyone on staff.

5. Have a contract and make sure that it spells out the expectations on both sides.

It's important to document the expectations of both the unpaid intern and the company. Have a contract that identifies the beginning and end dates of the internship and make sure that it specifically states that there is no expectation that the position will lead to full-time employment. Establish a process through which interns can make a complaint if they feel that their educational needs aren't being met. Make it clear that your company encourages an open discourse if interns aren't satisfied with their experience.

Unpaid internships can benefit both companies and individuals, but you don't want to end up in a lawsuit because of unclear definitions and unmet expectations. If you have any doubts about whether or not you should be paying your interns or how to run an unpaid internship successfully, contact an employment law firm such as John Franco Law for advice.


18 November 2015

Every Business Owner Needs to Be Well-versed in Law

While I took a few business classes in college, I left early to start my own business. I thought I had the knowledge I needed to become a great business owner and was eager to start my business. Soon, I had a new business that was actually performing pretty well in sales. Unfortunately, I hadn't taken any law courses in college, and I soon realized I made a few mistakes when starting my business that could cause me some legal trouble. Thankfully, a great business lawyer helped me correct my mistakes before I had any legal problems, but I then decided to take those business law courses. I want to help business owners and anyone else who would like to learn more about the law by starting a blog where I will share what I have learned and will continue to learn. I hope I can help you!