The word “Interns” has turned into a dirty word for employment lawyers lately. But before you panic, it’s time to separate fact from fiction.

Now, it IS true that a few years back, the United States Department of Labor signaled employers that it would start cutting down on the practice that some employers used of hiring unpaid interns to do real work instead of paying employees.  (And yes, I covered THAT too.)

The USDOL released a fact sheet on the subject too at the time. But over the last two years, we just haven’t seen an epidemic of cases about this issue.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been notable cases; but misclassification of employees remains a much larger issue for employers to be concerned about. 

Nevertheless, as employers start to think about their summer plans, it’s important to think about how you structure your internship program.    How so? By reviewing six factors that the USDOL will look at too.

  • 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 existing 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; and
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Here’s a simpler “test”: If you’re bringing on unpaid interns to do work in place of regular employees, it’s probably not going to fly.

An “intern” doesn’t have to be a dirty word.