Internships – do they need to be paid?

As the first day of summer approaches and schools are getting out for summer break, many students are looking for work. Some estimates place over a million Americans a year in an internship role.  The University of Cincinnati believe so strongly in the value of on the job training that nearly every area of study incorporates an internship.

Most internships are paid roles but some only offer training. Katie Loehrke, an editor with J.J. Keller & Associates and specializes in employment law issues, recently published an article entitled “Unpaid internships are common, but are they legal?”[1]  She states “Regardless of whether or not they’re willing to work for free, interns whose work benefits your organization must be paid at least minimum wage for the time they put in. That is spelled out in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor. To be unpaid, an intern must receive training from your organization that benefits the student and is similar to the training he or she would find in a vocational school. However, that training cannot advance your company’s interests.” In other words, if the intern is doing work that would otherwise have to be done by a paid employee, you must compensate them.  Even if the employee is guaranteed a job at the end of the internship, you have to pay them because the training you are providing will benefit the firm in their later employment.

Ms. Loerhrke stresses that interns want challenges and a sense of appreciation, no different than regular employees. If you are using the intern process as a way of evaluating future hires, you will want them to be part of the corporate community and to have a positive work experience so pay them a competitive wage.


[1] Unpaid internships are common, but are they legal? By Katie Loehrke, editor for J. J. Keller & Associates in the Columbus Business Journal on June 5, 2017.

photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection Yosr works as a consultant for an export promotion agency via photopin (license)

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