How to Not Get Sued By Your Unpaid Interns + 6 Things You Must Know to Legally Hire Free Help.


A few weeks ago, I led a twitter chat on the legalities of hiring unpaid interns. It was a timely discussion since: (1) it’s officially summer and everyone likes to bring the young folks in for free help and (2) there have been a couple of pretty hot unpaid intern court decisions and cases bringing this issue to the forefront. Long gone are the days of free labor in exchange for….uhm, prominence? These kids (your future or current interns) are standing up for their rights and as a respectable business owner you need to know the law, and….use it.

This post covers the basic requirements established by the Department of Labor + a couple of my tips from the twitter chat.

Department of Labor Intern Requirements

Familiarize yourself with these requirements before you hire unpaid interns. If you’ve already got someone on board it’s never too late to make sure your I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed. Your internship program must meet these requirements:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

You must meet all six requirements.In a nutshell, no more “hiring” interns to work as your secretary or personal assistant. That just won’t cut it.

Missed my Twitter chat? I forgive you this time.

Here are a few tips from that chat to help you meet the DOL requirements.

  • Hire interns through your local colleges and universities where possible. Planning ahead is key.
  • Coordinate a mentoring component for the intern.
  • Offer structured learning opportunities such as lunchtime seminars.

But, the learning opp should not simply focus on company practices. Teach the intern skills that they can use in the future.

  • Your intern should be supervised by someone who is experienced in the area where the intern will work. Example: a marketing intern should be supervised by your marketing gal or guy.
  • Develop a different process for intern recruitment than employee recruitment.
  • When structuring intern duties compare it with your other job descriptions to confirm that there is no overlap.
  • Ads can be used as evidence in court. Make sure intern opportunity ads adequately describe the internship using the DOL factors.

I said much, much more during that chat but…there is always next time.

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