With summer just around the corner, many businesses are looking forward to the inexpensive and/or free labor provided by unpaid interns. What many businesses may not know is that courts are cracking down on what businesses are able to ‘get away’ with in terms of unpaid internships, as more and more unpaid interns file related complaints and class actions against their employers. Unpaid internships are generally a hot topic in employment law, and indeed, a slew of recent class action lawsuits filed on the matter show things are not changing any time soon. How can a California business be prepared?
What is an intern?
An intern is a student or trainee who works, sometimes without pay, at a trade or occupation in order to gain work experience. Meeting federal and state standards for an internship is often not an easy task for a California employer, as certain conditions must be met.
To start, internships should be similar to the training that would be given in an educational environment, the internship experience should be for the benefit of the intern, and the intern should not displace regular employees. Additionally, the employer should derive no immediate advantage from the activities of trainees or students; indeed, an employer’s operations may even be impeded on occasion.
In other words:
· An internship should be part of an educational curriculum
· The intern(s) should not receive employee benefits
· The training received by interns should be general so as to qualify the interns for work in any similar business, rather than designed specifically for a job with the employer offering the program
· The screening process for interns should not be the same as for regular employment, but rather must be based on criteria relevant for admission into an independent educational program
· Advertisements or postings for internships should clearly describe the positions as educational or training-based rather than employment
One of the main points courts often look at when determining whether the employer should have paid the intern as an employee is whether the internship offered an educational benefit to the intern. To discuss whether your internship program qualifies as such, contact experienced employment attorney and managing partner Drew E. Pomerance today.