With summer just around the corner, many companies are already planning for or even interviewing potential summer interns. Buyer beware! The landscape for this process has changed significantly. "Back in the day," being an intern typically meant being little more than a "gofer" doing mundane tasks for no money. If you got lucky, perhaps an interesting assignment would cross your path.
High Legal Bar For Unpaid Internships
Today however, if you are a "for profit company" that is.planning to hire interns for no salary, you must be able to meet some very specific criterion set out by the Department of Labor (DOL) or else you may be sued. The bar set by the DOL is significant, something popular journalist Charlie Rose & his production company discovered the hard way. They were sued by a former intern triggering a class action suit costing them a significant sum of money and setting precedent in the process.
Changes At Non-Profit Organizations
The rules for hiring interns at non-profit organizations have also changed. For example when I was a graduate student training to be psychotherapist, paid internships while prized were extremely rare. The typical standard gig meant working under a licensed supervisor, working long hours for no pay. In fact interns lost money because not only did we have to pay for things like professional attire at the same standard as our paid colleagues but more importantly, unless you worked for a large organization like a hospital or clinic, we had to pay for weekly supervision in addition to things like office rent, phone, PG&E, business cards, etc..This is different than paying "volunteers" at non-profit organizations. Once again, there are certain provisions, & strict criterion to meet.
How can you protect yourself? Rather than worry about whether you have "dotted every 'i' & crossed every 't' " consider doing the following:
- Provide payment for work
- Make certain that there is a demonstrable [read: provable] educational experience
- While not every assignment has to fascinate [most of us find ourselves doing "scutwork" at one time or another], be certain to charge interns with some meaningful work [translation: just getting coffee and sandwiches or answering phones is not enough
Make hiring summer interns truly mutually beneficial. Remember, today's intern could be tomorrow's employee, colleague, or boss!