Summer Internships? 6 Criteria You Need to Know About

Student at the whiteboard - Employers can't simply have students work for free!

Image via Flickr by IntelFreePress

It’s a thought that crosses some employers’ minds about this time of year. “What about hiring a summer intern for free?” Ahhh…summertime, and the living is easy…

Three Questions for Employers

Oftentimes we attempt to justify these free internships with reassuring statements to ourselves like, “I know some students who are taking the summer off and would really like some experience.”  The question of hiring a summer intern for free is a complex question and doesn’t have an easy “yes” or “no” answer.  At this point in time, when our government agencies are looking for money in creative places, this is becoming a more targeted area, and you need to be extra careful with compliance for unpaid and paid internship’s guidelines.  So let’s look at a few things before you make the decision.

  1. Is the reason primarily for the benefit of the intern or the company?  If it benefits the company by the product the intern produces, it should probably be a paid position under the paid internship’s guidelines.
  2. Even if you think you have a total understanding with the interns during hiring that the positions are unpaid, free internships, they can still come back and claim unpaid wages.  Review and document your program to ensure it meets the DOL requirements for interns.
  3. Does the environment and the product of it resemble what the intern would have received in an educational environment?

I suggest my clients review the US DOL Fact Sheet, and yes we can help with that.  The criteria are listed here as is the link to the fact sheet.  The fact sheet has enough information to help you decide if you have a true internship program.

The 6 Criteria for Determining True Free Internships

  1. The free internships, even though it includes actual operation of the employer’s facilities, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship’s experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employers that provide the training derive no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion their operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employers and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

You can find more information from the US DOL here: //

Don’t let the lure of cheap labor make your summer hotter than it’s already going to be.  Stay cool by being in compliance.  A PEO can definitely help you out with that.

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