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By LaQues Harrison, Legal Project Associate

Companies in a partnership with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), such as Resourcing Edge, further benefit by having expert HR advice regarding the employment of interns. By working with a PEO, businesses can avoid potential costly compliance mistakes while enjoying the benefits of having interns in the workplace.

Internships provide students an opportunity to improve their basic knowledge, skills, and abilities to add to their resumes, while benefiting from networking opportunities and specialized training/education. Employers benefit from obtaining relatively inexpensive labor and by tapping into a pool of potential employees. More importantly, employers can utilize internships to evaluate potential new hires.

Here are five things employer should know about interns in the workplace:

1. Paid versus Unpaid Interns

  • The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has adopted a “primary beneficiary” test that replaces the former rigid six-factor test in effect since 2010. Now, there is a seven non-exhaustive factor test to determine if a company can offer an unpaid internship: 1) expectation of no compensation is clear; 2) like what might occur in an education setting, such as clinicals or other hands-on training; 3) tied to the intern’s formal education program; 4) accommodation to the intern’s academic commitments; 5) the duration provides the intern with beneficial learning; 6) not displace other employees, but complements the work product of others while providing education benefits; and 7) no promise of a paid job at the end. No one single factor is determinative and other factors can be considered.
  • Generally, if an internship is unpaid, it should be focused on learning about a particular field of employment, not simply performing clerical tasks such as tasks the company would usually pay others to perform.

2. ‘Employee’ versus ‘Independent Contractor’ Classification

  • There is typically no instance in which an intern would be categorized as an independent contractor, so employers should avoid misclassification, which can result in penalties (DOL).

3. Permitted Work Hours

  • Paid interns are considered non-exempt employees entitling them to premium pay for hours worked over 40 in one week. Paid interns are entitled to one and one-half their normal hourly pay, just as other non-exempt employees.
  • Age is another factor in determining permitted hours to work. Interns between the ages of 14-16 may only work up to three hours on school days and no more than 18 hours a school week.

4. Harassment and Discrimination Trainings

  • Interns are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination. It is important to hold a training or provide interns with resources if they believe they have been harassed or have experienced a form of discrimination.

5. Orientation Training

  • Orientation ensures that everyone starts with the same expectations and provides guidance for the interns on what to expect.
  • In orientation, it is recommended that employers communicate procedures, policies and workplace rules that are applicable to the interns. Designating a point of contact for interns also is the best way to ensure the program runs smoothly and that any concerns may be properly addressed.

Employers should keep in mind as well that all employees, including interns, who work more than 1,000 hours and meet the eligibility criteria, such as age and waiting period, are eligible to participate in a company-sponsored retirement plan (Employee Retirement Income Security Act). In some instances, an intern could qualify for health benefits, but most do not as their tenure is six months or less.

LaQues Harrison is a third-year law student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. She is a paid intern at Resourcing Edge in the HR Services Department.

Shellie Rich

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