Knowing Your Legal Rights as an Intern
Internships are a great way for high school or college students to get experience in their field before heading off into the workforce. Through gaining real-life experience and perspectives, students can apply for positions and careers with a bit of an advantage over other applicants.
Although internships can be incredibly beneficial for both students and businesses, they are an extremely controversial topic. Because the majority of interns are not paid or viewed as traditional employees, internships can lead to some gray areas in the office.
The line between the rights of an intern and the rights of an employee can be a bit blurred. However, if you’re thinking about taking an internship or hiring interns of your own, you need to understand what rights an individual has as an intern.
Payment Requirements for Interns
Today, the majority of internships are unpaid. This means those who participate in internships will not be compensated for their time spent in the office. While some schools or businesses may provide course credit in exchange for an internship, there are actually a few rules surrounding whether or not unpaid internships are legal.
When determining whether or not an internship should be paid or not, consider how it meets the following six requirements. If the internship does not comply with all six of these standards, it must be paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
- Information learned at the internship is similar to that which could be learned in a traditional educational setting.
- The intern receives some benefit from the internship.
- The intern is not taking the position of a standard employee.
- The business employing the intern does not receive a direct advantage from the work, projects or activity done by the intern.
- There is not a job guaranteed at the end of the internship.
- It is understood by both parties that the internship will not be paid.
The law also states that if the company is using an intern in place of a traditional employee, as supplemental help during a busy season or as a trial period before being given a full-time position, the intern must receive at least minimum wage. If the intern is just shadowing a full-time employee or helping minimally, the intern does not need to be paid.
Promising a Job to an Intern
Before the internship begins, a clear start and end date to the program should be discussed. This timeframe will present a clear duration for the internship, ensuring both parties are not taken advantage of.
The employer should not make promises to the intern that a job is waiting for them at the end of the internship. While many students take internships with the hope they will get a full-time position from the company at the end, promising a job to an intern means they should be paid for their time.
Intern Protection From Discrimination
Until very recently, interns were not protected under job discrimination laws. This meant companies could openly discriminate against interns because of their gender, religion, race, sex or age. If an intern faced discrimination in the workplace, they were unable to do much about it.
However, a bill was recently passed that puts interns under the protection of the Civil Rights Act. With this bill in place, interns are able to address the discrimination they may face during an unpaid internship by suing the employer. This bill states that discrimination during an unpaid internship is a violation of their human rights.
Workers’ Compensation Coverage for Interns
Workers’ compensation helps employers and employees when injuries in the workplace happen. Because interns are not considered employees in the traditional sense, it can be confusing to know whether or not they are protected under a business’s workers’ compensation insurance plan.
For the most part, interns will need to be covered under workers’ compensation. It does not make a difference whether or not the intern is paid or unpaid or if they are doing manual labor or not. The only exception is if the intern is working for a religious, charitable or educational institution. An injured intern would be covered the same as an injured employee.
State workers’ compensation laws will also influence the level of protection an intern has. It is important to know what kind of workers’ compensation laws are valid in your state before taking an internship or hiring interns for your office.
Whether you’re a student looking for an internship to advance your career or a business hoping to enlist the help of a few interns in your office, it is important to be proactive about following the rules and regulations surrounding an internship. Knowing the legal rights of an intern can ensure you have a positive experience with your next internship.