Summer Internship, end of the spring semester and college students are heading home.

This weekend is the start when many college students are returning home with the end of spring semester. It’s also the time many companies offer internships to “out of school” students. Unpaid internships are universally seen as great opportunities for students to acquire valuable job skills, experience, providing genuine and verifiable learning opportunities and giving the student intern a considerable advantage over those competing for jobs right out of college.

The downside to hiring unpaid interns for employers is navigating the potential mine field commonly known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) making sure you are not violating the law. Misclassifying an employee as an unpaid intern could deny the employee from earning the federal minimum wage as well as the potential for overtime wages. Violation of the FLSA could conceivably result in costly litigation, civil fines and possibly criminal prosecution for the employer.

Employers can however take steps to insure that their classifications comply with the FLSA. A well designed internship program is one that complies with the Department of Labor (DOL) guidelines for unpaid internships. To insure compliance and potentially avoid problems, an employer should implement an unpaid internship program which includes the following DOL guidelines:

• Provide training similar to that which would be given in an educational environment and which is primarily for the benefit of the intern;

• Provide the intern with close and constant supervision by regular employees; and

• Make sure the intern understands the internship is unpaid and that there is no guarantee of regular employment at the conclusion of the internship.

To ensure proper classification of unpaid interns employers should:

• Work with educational institutions to ensure that the internship is academically oriented for the benefit of students;

• Make sure interns do not perform the tasks that regular employees would normally perform; and

• Put the terms of the unpaid internship and have the intern acknowledge the internship is unpaid and that he or she is not guaranteed regular employment

Having an internship program with the above guidelines in place may protect employers from liability for FLSA violations arising out of internship programs.

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