Are unpaid internships legal? The confusion continues - Macleans.ca

Are unpaid internships legal? The confusion continues

Even employment counselors don’t understand the rules

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Photo courtesy of USDAgov on Flickr

University career counselors in the United States don’t understand what constitutes a legal internship, according to a new survey of 427 of them.

Nearly a fifth of those surveyed believe that interns must always be paid or else their work is illegal. That’s not true. Another fifth believed that internships are always legal, regardless of whether there’s academic credit awarded. That’s also not true.

The standard in both the U.S. and Canada is as follows. If someone receives academic credit from a college or university for their work placement, it’s assumed that the experience is primarily educational and therefore they don’t need to be paid. But if a so-called intern is not in school, the organization isn’t a non-profit, and/or they’re replacing a regular employee, the job is considered a job like any other — the minimum wage laws apply. Read more about the rules and the backlash against unpaid internships, right here.

Regardless of the rules, college counselors overwhelmingly agree that internships are valuable and don’t think students should be too concerned with pay. More than 80 per cent think a student should take an unpaid internship if they can’t find a paid one and only 11 per cent think that all interns should be paid for their work.