Summer will be here before we know it (even though we Ohioans saw snow yesterday) and for many businesses, that means summer interns. If you fall into this category you want to be very careful about wage and hour traps. (I’ve blogged about this issue in years past, here, here, and here). You know by now that it is highly unlikely that you can get away with an unpaid internship, right? Did you also know that even paid internships carry legal risks? For example, it is probably not enough to simply pay a “stipend” for internship work. More often than not, “intern” is just a dance word for “employee,” per the Department of Labor. That means all the usual rules apply: minimum wage, overtime, meal and break periods, and so on.
Hamilton College is learning this lesson the hard way. Late last year it was hit with a class action lawsuit filed by interns and assistant coaches in the athletic department who claim they were not paid minimum wage. Many worked long hours (90 plus/week), in the hopes of getting full-time jobs. If the plaintiffs prevail, the college could be looking at millions of dollars in wages, damages, interest and attorneys fees.
Do yourself a favor. If you are planning on using interns this summer, run your program by counsel.