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Do You Need To Pay Your Interns?


Every year as schools wind down and summer approaches, decision-makers within companies start thinking about the prospect of hiring interns to come in and do some of the less-desirable tasks around the office. While many larger businesses have established internship programs, smaller employers often don’t understand the rules surrounding the proper hiring and payment of interns. Here are three rules that organizations must follow when using unpaid interns.

  1. Ensure interns are not used to displace regular employees, but work under their close observation. – This is probably the most important and oft-broken rule of employing interns. Under no circumstances should unpaid interns be doing a job that you would normally hire a paid employee to do. Your employees’ workload shouldn’t be lightened by the interns except in minimal amounts. Most of the interns’ time should be spent shadowing another employee to learn about new processes. This can still be beneficial to the organization, as it is easy to harvest some of the intern’s insight into the project they are shadowing, but it’s still up to the employee to implement any ideas.
  2. The interns or students are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship period. – This rule is set in place to make sure that employers aren’t hiring unpaid interns for a set period of time while promising them that at the conclusion of the internship they will be hired on by the company. The Department Of Labor sees this as a way of skirting fair labor laws by basically hiring an employee but not paying them for several weeks or months.
  3. A clear understanding of the internship agreement that interns are not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship. – This ensures that interns aren’t told “if you work for us for free for a few months, we’ll pay you for those months once you get hired on.” An intern must understand and agree that they will never be compensated for their internship.

Besides these restrictions, there are still many ways companies can benefit by having interns around. First, there is the injection of life that having someone new around the office can give the atmosphere. Interns are usually young and full of both ambition and innocence. Having someone around the office who is less jaded about being there can help boost morale. Second, there are some tasks that interns can perform without needing to be worried about breaking the rules. Having some of your busy work taken off your shoulders occasionally will likely still lighten your load. Third, your company can help build its reputation through the internship and you may find someone you want to hire after they’re done with the program—just be sure to make no promises.

If you find that an unpaid internship isn’t right for your company after learning the rules, consider hiring a paid intern. Most prospects looking for a paid internship understand they won’t make much more than minimum wage, and many will be willing to work part-time. Interns in this situation would then have all the same rules when it comes to payment, overtime, etc. as any other hourly employee. No, you do not have to pay your interns. Meanwhile, with the benefits from the work a paid intern can do, you might find that it is more than worth your investment.

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