Legal Issues Surrounding Internships

Thu, May 31, 2012

Internship Uncategorized

Hiring interns is a practice that is beneficial to both students and businesses in a number of ways. For students, education is the main goal, and many take on internships during the course of their college career in order to gain insight into the working world and the industry that they are soon to enter. Of course, it probably doesn’t hurt that they can also receive college credit, compensation (wages), experience to add to their résumé, and the possibility of a job offer once the internship is complete. As for businesses, they get the added benefit of having additional manpower, even though their usage of interns is limited, and the first crack at recruiting some of the best and brightest new minds in their particular field. Despite this, some businesses are hesitant to hire interns because of the legal issues involved. Here are some to consider.

The biggest potential legal issue facing most businesses is one of liability. Since interns are considered neither regular employees nor volunteers, business owners may be concerned about what will happen in the event of an accident. Generally speaking, paid interns will be covered by worker’s compensation; so long as they are listed on the payroll they should be eligible. An unpaid intern, on the other hand, is not viewed as an employee and is therefore not be covered by worker’s compensation should an accident, injury, or death occur in the course of work. As a rule, the school should cover expenses. But just in case, businesses should think about securing some kind of liability coverage for interns on the premises to deflect the possibility of a lawsuit (which could come with no limits on damages).

While liability presents a major issue for most businesses considering interns, there are other legal matters to address, as well. For example, there are strict limits regarding how interns may be utilized in the workplace. As unpaid staffers they can only work a certain number of hours, they must be supervised by a regular employee, there are limitations to the type of work they can do (a business is not allowed to gain immediate benefits from the intern), and they cannot replace existing employees. These are just a few of the rules and regulations governing internships. There may be a little more leeway in cases where interns are paid, and since most educational institutions are in agreement that interns may receive both wages and credit simultaneously, this option could provide the greatest benefits to students and businesses alike.

Of course, businesses are also responsible for ensuring that interns are receiving an education (similar to a vocational program), rather than simply answering phones. And reports must be turned in to academic advisors in order to ensure that students receive credit (otherwise the school could pursue legal action). But as long as businesses cover their bases (get a quote for liability insurance, check local laws regarding internships in the state, and meet the requirements of the college) they may reap the benefits of hiring on interns while offering a valuable service to the academic community.

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