Not that long ago, interns were known as the coffee getters, copy makers and phone answerers. In other words, the grunt workers. Or office gophers, perhaps.
Thankfully, those days are gone (for the most part).
Now, interns are treated as valuable members of the team, often attending meetings, working on projects and managing social media accounts. They bring a fresh perspective to the workplace and employers welcome their enthusiasm.
But the question of whether to pay interns continues to perplex employers. It’s not a question of free labor, but rather regulation. Are you required to pay your interns? And, if not, should you anyway?
These days, it seems that to find a job after college, students must engage in at least one internship during their academic careers. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that most employers expect it.
And it seems that paying interns is the way to go.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the results of its College 2013 Student Survey showed that 63.1 percent of paid interns received at least one job offer, whereas only 37 percent of unpaid interns did. That’s not much better than the survey’s results for those with no internship—35.2 percent received at least one job offer.
But it’s complicated for nonprofits, which are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which mandates for-profit companies pay their interns at least minimum wage.
Since the ruling in the Black Swan case, there’s been a lot of buzz about what constitutes work and what doesn’t. In June, a federal judge ruled that unpaid interns at Fox Searchlight Pictures violated the FLSA by not paying interns during the production of the 2010 movie “Black Swan.” The judge ruled the interns performed the same work duties for which others were paid, and that the internships didn’t provide an educational environment, but instead benefitted the studio.
While the film industry is notorious for not paying interns, the decision could turn other industries on their heads. Now, employers are asking: Will unpaid internships soon be history?
There’s a fine line when it comes to unpaid vs. paid internships, so in 2010 the U.S. Department of Labor released a fact sheet to determine under which circumstances a company could use unpaid interns. According to the department, there are six criteria that must be met to justify unpaid interns:
1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
It’s not easy to navigate the mumbo jumbo of labor laws. But if you’re thinking of starting an internship program, and if you’re debating about whether to pay your interns, Prima Civitas, a nonprofit economic and community development collaborative, offers a good resource. Prima Civitas’ Employer Internship Toolkit outlines what a successful internship program might look like and what an intern might do.
Next week, I’ll talk with Cheryl Ronk, president of Michigan Society of Association Executives, about the association’s successful internship program. I’ll also be doing some research to find other examples of successful programs, so I look forward to reporting back to you in a couple weeks.
But in the meantime, tell me: Does your association or organization use interns? If so, how? And do you pay them?