Summer Interns…To Pay or Not to Pay?

Posted on May 17, 2012 by Robin Kozicka in Best Practices, Legal, Wage-and-Hour

It’s May, the lovely month of May…Spring is in the air and school days are winding to a close. An influential business associate has told you that her son (a computer whiz) will soon be “off campus” and she’d love to get him a “little” summer job in a software development company (just like yours J) where he could hone his skills and get some valuable work experience.  Money’s not an issue; he’s a conscientious, eager kid and he’ll work for nothing.  You could use the help.  What a deal, right?

Not so fast…for you, as an employer, it’s important to understand whether an “intern” will be considered an “employee” or not by regulators.  A person who works with a company for a temporary period, such as a summer break, to gain experience while completing his or her education will generally be considered an “employee” and subject to the provisions of employment laws, including wage and hour matters.  By not paying the intern, you are running the risk of being found liable for wages, overtime pay, employment taxes, and any associated penalties for not paying in the first place.

There are some cases where you may host an “unpaid intern”, but this type of arrangement is possible only under strict provisions. Some examples include hands-on work experience that is required as part of a student’s educational curriculum in a given area of study; students engaged in original, professional-level research to fulfill the requirements of an advanced degree; and medical students working in hospitals for short periods of time.

When in doubt, consult your TriNet Human Capital Consultant for additional guidance.  Offering this type of work opportunity for students is great, if you can do it, and TriNet can assist in helping you do it the right way….so you minimize your risk of having to pay later – and unexpectedly – for your good deeds.