Human Resources News & Insights

Thinking about hiring interns? Watch out for these mistakes

Believe it or not, summer will arrive. And so will interns if your organization decides to use them. Just make sure your intern program doesn’t violate Department of Labor regulations.

In opinion letters and other rulings, the DOL has set out six ironclad rules for taking on interns. A violation of any of those rules could cost your company in fines and legal fees:

1. There should be actual training involved, similar to what an intern would get at a vocational school. To fully cover the training stipulation, many firms write out detailed training plans, including goals and objectives for the trainee.

2. The training is mainly for the benefit of the trainee, and not just for the company.

3. Trainees do not displace regular employees.

4. The company that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded.

5. There is no agreement or requirement that trainees will receive a job after completion of the training period. That doesn’t preclude companies from hiring trainees; it just means there can’t be a promise of employment before or during the training period.

6. The organization and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

Note: Legal advisers suggest that you avoid terms such as “hire,” “job,” “employee” or “employer” in documents associated with an intern program.

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  • Sandi

    Where would I find these DOL regs?

  • Mike R
  • Susan Adams

    If you are in California, ensure you understand the wage and hour definition of “internship” if you intend not to pay them. Otherwise you will need to research appropriate compensation.

  • JRM

    Is this only for unpaid internships, apparently?

  • Janet in CA

    JRM – yes upaid. Traditionally, in HR terminology, an “intern” is unpaid. They complete projects/perform work assigned or guided by a professor/instructor and earn college credits for their efforts. Of course, they also gain the experience in the work environment and learn from professionals in the field while completing the project. “Student worker programs” are typically paid, no benefits, part time and with some type of criterea that establishes the worker is a “student.” They do work for the employer (and aren’t supposed to displace or duplicate work done by employees if you have unions around.) In recent history, most students don’t know the difference between the two statuses and in either event, say they are “doing an internship.” So now you hear unpaid intern…. Another issue – be careful how you hire/what you call them or you could be paying unemployment benefits….

  • Gar

    My experience is to make certain that the work assigned is 1) project oriented with a beginning and an end 2) assign work that will NOT need to be done by an employee after the assignement 3) is meaningful and could be included in a resume(no stand at the copier) AND PAY THEM FOR THAT PRODUCTIVE WORK ASSIGNMENT.