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Employer Internship FAQs

1. What is an internship?

An internship should provide students with the opportunity to apply what they have learned inside of the classroom to real work situations - the work assigned is directly related to the students' course of study. Internships should provide practical "hands-on" training, enabling students to build on their skills and employers to train students in their operations and to identify prospective hires.

2. Is an Intern considered an employee?

Employment laws do not necessarily use the term "intern," nor do they offer a detailed definition of the term "employee." The courts consider several factors when determining if an intern is, in fact, an employee. The greatest emphasis is placed upon the extent to which the employer controls the manner and means by which interns complete their assigned tasks. It is highly unlikely that most interns would not be considered to be employees; therefore, the employer is responsible for paying payroll taxes on the intern's salary as well as providing the intern with the same legal protections as other employees, such as eligibility for workers' compensation.

3. Must I pay an Intern?

This depends on whether the intern is considered a "learner/trainee" under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has developed criteria to assist employers in differentiating between an intern entitled to minimum wage and a learner/trainee who, although an employee, may be unpaid. Some key points:

  • Learner/trainees cannot displace regular employees
  • Learner/trainees are not guaranteed employment at the end of their assignment
  • Learner/trainees are aware that they are not entitled to regular wages during the internship*
  • Learner/trainees must receive hands-on training that primarily benefits the student - not the company

* stipends and tuition assistance are not considered payment of wages for the purpose of determining whether a student is an employee.

4. When is the Intern considered an unpaid volunteer?

The DOL regulations define "volunteer" as someone providing services to a public agency for civic, humanitarian or charitable reasons without the expectation of being paid for services rendered. An intern at a for-profit company does not fit this definition.

5. Is an Intern entitled to workers' compensation?

Some state statues exclude interns from coverage, while others do not necessarily specify whether an intern is entitled to coverage or not. For those states, typically, an intern's contribution to a company is sufficient to establish employee status with the participating company for workers' compensation purposes, regardless of whether the intern is unpaid, paid or receives a stipend.