Focus, Human Resources, and Law

Considerations on hiring summer interns

April 25, 2014
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It’s that time of year again: Companies are likely being bombarded with résumés from want-to-be summer interns.

Before delving into that pile of résumés, however, there are several things a company should consider, including whether or not a summer internship should be paid or unpaid.

A string of lawsuits against entertainment companies has sparked debate about what duties are justifiable for an unpaid intern.

Attorney Mark Smith, of Rhoades McKee, said companies should ask themselves the experience they plan to provide an intern to determine whether that person should receive a paycheck.

“Are we providing an educational experience that, in the long term, will benefit the intern as they make career choices or go into our line of business?” Smith asked.

“Or, are we just going to bring someone in and have them be a copy clerk, or file for us, which is really just part of the day-to-day grind of the business and doesn’t provide the intern with any legitimate experience.”

Smith said if a company is looking to bring in someone primarily to handle administrative tasks, an unpaid internship is not the route to take. A genuine unpaid internship should have a clear educational benefit for the intern.

Smith advises companies to prepare a written document stating the internship is unpaid, and include clear expectations of the educational value, training and benefits the intern will receive.

He also said it is not a bad idea to hire interns through a college’s formal internship program.

“For example, Cooley Law School has an externship program that they place students in various law firms during their third year, without the expectation of compensation,” Smith said. 

“They have some pretty specific things they want to see the externs accomplish in terms of research and writing, sitting in on various types of meetings, participation, and certain kinds of activities.”

By having clear objectives that are documented, a company can protect itself from the claim that the intern was taken advantage of.

Finally, companies should familiarize themselves with the Department of Labor’s six unpaid internship guidelines:

  • The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.
  • The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
  • The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of staff.
  • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

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