Summer is in full swing and for a lot of companies and universities, it’s intern season.
The value of an internship has long been lauded as the best way for a student or recent graduate to learn more about a particular industry and take a job out for a test drive. But some companies are taking it too far.
A recent class action lawsuit against Warner Music Group (WMG) alleges the company forced 3,000 interns to work 50-hour-weeks with no pay and no college credit. The key issue is not just the lack of any sort of compensation, it’s the allegation that interns were doing the same things as paid employees—a big “no no” when working with interns.
Despite the above scenario, however, hosting an internship program at your business can be beneficial to both the intern and your team—as long as certain rules are followed, and especially if the program is unpaid.
Rule #1: Tailor the program around the intern and his/her education, not necessarily your business.
“The company must ask whether the internship is similar to an educational experience… The closer the internship is to an educational setting, the more it benefits the intern—and the more likely the interns may go unpaid,” writes Kailee M. Goold, a labor and employee relations attorney in Ohio.
Rule #2: Don’t look at the internship program as an extension of your workforce; that’s not the point.
“If the company would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will likely be viewed as employees and will be entitled to compensation,” Goold continues.
WMG is not the first group to find itself in hot water with interns. In 2013, media giant Conde Nast shut down its internship program due a lawsuit alleging the company paid its interns less than $1 an hour. A more serious intern-related event took place last year when a 21-year-old Bank of America intern died after working extremely long hours for days at a time.
If your business currently runs an unpaid internship program, or is thinking of starting one, make sure you know the rules of the road. If anything, it may be easier to pay your eager new team members up front rather than risk getting a $450,000 bill in the future.