What You Need to Know When You Hire an Intern

Are you considering a paid or unpaid internship program at your organization this summer? It can be a great way to connect with local students and get some fresh vibes in your organization - as well as a great way to give back to students new to the professional world and your field. However, there are a few pitfalls you want to avoid as you put together your internship program. It’s a good idea to be familiar with internship law in your state.

Know the Legal Definition of Internship Where You Operate

Is your internship program legal under your local labor laws? Know the difference between employees and interns. Take some time to get familiar with the internship laws outlined by the Department of Labor. While every internship and organization is likely to look and function a bit differently, these 7 “tests” (see the DOL website for more details) can help you determine whether the position you are creating is legally and fairly an internship - or if it should be a paid employee position. Such metrics include who is receiving the most benefit, whether there is any academic correlation, and how well certain parameters are communicated. Also, it is important to know that if someone doesn’t quality to be an unpaid intern, we can still call them an intern. They just have to be paid at least minimum wage.

Create a Diverse Checklist for Intern Education

Your internship program should have an educational component. Offer your interns exposure to a broad range of tools and departments. They should learn the in’s and out’s of a number of factors that drive your organization to success. Your checklist will help you keep that work comprehensive and help the interns get a clear picture of all they have accomplished during their time with you.

Develop a Project With Your Interns

In addition to that broad range of exposure and industry education, give your interns an opportunity to dive deeper into one aspect of your organization. Give them a task that they can build on and that will culminate when they finish their time with you. Keep in mind that the Department of Labor’s definition of an internship is one whose work complements the work of employees rather than replacing an employee. Be sure that the internship project is something that primarily benefits the intern’s academic plan’s - while merely supplementing the work of your organization.

Let Them Travel

Don’t keep your interns tucked away in a back office somewhere. Now’s their chance to really see how your organization runs, from the top down. Whenever appropriate, let them attend meetings, sales calls, interviews, conferences, etc. This gives them that broad experience we talked about above, and further differentiates them from paid employees whose daily demands or roles may keep them from attending such things.

Internships can be a great way to give back to your community by opening your doors and your office to local students eager to learn the ropes. But don’t find yourself tangled in a legal mess by confusing interns with employees. Learn the laws and create an appropriate program that clearly benefits those involved.

Legal Disclaimer: This post is intended for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal information or advice. This information and all Coastal Payroll materials are provided in consultation with federal and state statutes and do not encompass other regulations that may exist, such as local ordinances. Transmission of documents or information through the Coastal Payroll does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, you are encouraged to consult an attorney.