If this if your first rodeo when it comes to hiring unpaid interns, there are a few things you need to always keep in mind to ensure that you're passing the test – legally – and don't end up in a nasty court battle. First off, you need to ensure that your intern understands that they will not be paid for their time at your company. Don't just take their word for it, either; get the confirmation in writing. Here are four other things, as outlined by the United States Department of Labor:
1. Unpaid Internships Must Be Educational.
An unpaid internship is required to be similar to that of training that an individual would receive in a learning setting. This may be difficult to do on your own, so you could potentially reach out to the local high school or university. The school may be able to offer education credits for their time in the internship.
2. Always Ensure the Internship Is Benefiting the Intern.
When assigning tasks to your unpaid intern, don't think of yourself. Don't think of your company. Instead, think about the intern. What is going to help them? What is going to teach them? In other words, allow your unpaid intern to do a lot more than run errands, get coffee and pass out mail. Anything that your intern does while at your place of business should prepare them for any employment setting and shouldn't be specific to yours.
3. Avoid Relocating an Employee to Make Room for an Unpaid Intern.
There is nothing wrong with an unpaid intern seeing how things work throughout the office, which could mean shadowing some of your employees throughout the day as they perform their standard daily tasks. However, there is something wrong with allowing your unpaid intern to "replace" the employee. Any work that an employee does on a regular basis should never be directly assigned to one of your interns. The unpaid intern should also always be supervised and their work should never be depended on in order for your business to run smoothly.
4. Make Certain That All Interns Understand That a Paid Position Is Not Guaranteed.
Before an unpaid intern ever steps foot onto the grounds of your business, you need to make sure that they have been given a fixed deadline of when the internship will end. It is important that they realize that the internship cannot and will not be used as a prerequisite or a trial period to them being hired. Even if they perform well during the duration of the unpaid internship, it doesn't mean that there is a salaried job waiting for them in the end.
If you need help understanding the laws outlined by the Department of Labor or want to ensure that you have a proper set-up for unpaid interns, contact an employment law firm.