The New Department of Labor Guidelines on Internships

Get Familiar With the New Rules for Working With Interns

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Film buffs fondly recall the blockbuster hit "The Interns" starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. But, not all internships take place at Google HQ, and not all internships are on the up-and-up. That's why the government gets involved with guidelines issued by the US Department of Labor on internships. No state is safe from the filing of lawsuits regarding the legalities of internship programs and how interns are treated.

If you are an employer trying to ensure you have a safe internship program that follows the guidelines below, here are a few recommendations.

Make Sure the Experience Is Supervised

You’ll read this below, but an internship should be a supervised learning experience. Interns shouldn’t be left alone in the office and should always have a point of contact while on the job. They should also know (and understand) how to contact their immediate supervisor and understand how (and when) they will receive feedback.

Set Times for Evaluation

All employers should schedule three evaluations with their interns. One should be held after two weeks, another at the halfway point, and the last one at the end of the internship. Remember, feedback is key in order to educate the intern so they can learn from this experience.

Switch Up The Workload

Remember, interns are like sponges. They are not employees (with specialized skills) and they should be learning about different parts of your business.

Rotational programs are a great way to create a learning experience

Federal Guidelines to Follow

The New Federal Guidelines on Internships could affect the number of internships companies offer. Based on the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which was created to ensure that all workers be paid at least a fair minimum wage, the federal government is cracking down on unpaid internships to discourage employers from the practice of having interns work for free.

According to The Department of Labor, the following six legal criteria must be applied when making a determination if an internship is required to be paid.

1. The internship (even though it includes the actual operation of the employer's business) should be similar to training given in an educational environment.

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern, not the employer.

3. The intern should not displace regular employees but work under close supervision of existing staff.

4. The employer that provides the training should derive 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.

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

In order for an internship to be academic worthy, students doing internships in conjunction with their college coursework are expected to gain hands-on experience. The experience should help them develop the knowledge and skills required to gain entry into their field. The new federal guidelines could affect the quality of internships because one of the criteria states that the employer derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.

What the new Guidelines Mean for Students

The distinction that the New Guidelines are looking to enforce is that internships are for educational training rather than having interns do the work of regular employees. Many employers spend considerable time training and mentoring their interns and do not derive much benefit from having them complete an internship. Unfortunately, there are other organizations that expect interns to jump in and do the work of a regular employee. An unfortunate (and avoidable) result of strict adherence to the New Guidelines and interpreting the issue of the legality of unpaid internships could make it more difficult for students to find internships in the future.