Summer is here and the interns are all in place! Are you paying your interns? If you’re not, you might be in for a rude surprise. Gone are the days when you could fill the office with young, fresh faces who would tackle all the grunt work for free. Or perhaps they’d mostly sit around all summer so that they could add your company to their resume. Either way, those days are behind us now.
The government has passed guidelines for hiring interns, which are spelled out in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Basically, in order for interns to work for free, they must be learning something. That learning needs to be something similar to a vocational school. How might these guidelines impact your office?
- Interns cannot replace a regular employee and also must report to a regular employee,
- They must be trained to do a job, not to be hired, but to learn about the operations in your business,
- The internship is for the benefit of the intern, not the company, and
- Both parties need to be aware that this is a non-paying role.
In June of 2013, a Federal District Court judge in Manhattan ruled that an employer who had interns answering phones, tracking purchase orders, making copies, etc., was in violation of the FLSA Act and that these interns were technically employees who should have been paid wages. As it stands, the company is trying to reverse this decision. But the case adds to concerns that if you are not paying your interns, you need to have them doing something to benefit them, rather than have them do work that entry-level employees are required to do.
To avoid any controversy or confusion, your best bet is to pay your interns minimum wage. No, it’s not free, but it is still the best deal in town as far as hiring labor. If you truly can’t afford minimum wage, your other option is to set your interns up with work that they can apply to their current school path or career path. This would not be answering the phones or making copies. Instead, they might research an educationally relevant topic that will provide you both with useful information. For example, if a student is majoring in marketing, perhaps they could research and write a report about your competition or better ways you can market your business.
There are still lots of ways your company can benefit from having an intern. Perhaps the best part is that your firm can help invest in the very start of a talented person’s career.
Catherine Lang-Cline is president and co-founder of Portfolio Creative, an Inc. fastest growing company for the past four years. Portfolio Creative helps companies connect with creative talent in all areas of design, marketing, communications and advertising.
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