Posted on April 2, 2014

3 Questions Employers Should Be Asking about Internships

With summer fast approaching, many companies are in the process of hiring interns. Whether you use interns only during the summer months or all year round, here are three critical questions you should be asking:

Who counts as an intern, and should they be paid?

Over the past few years, the Department of Labor (DOL) has been increasing its wage and hour enforcement efforts. This has led to trouble for many employers, considering that more than half of college student internships are unpaid. Given the rash of high-profile unpaid intern lawsuits in 2013, smart employers are brushing up on the regulations so they can better protect their companies from risk.

DOL regulations state that employers cannot avoid the requirements of federal law by simply labeling employees as “interns” or “trainees” to reduce costs. To discourage employers from taking advantage of inappropriately classifying interns, the DOL has set six criteria to qualify a job position as a legitimate unpaid internship. An unpaid internship should:

# Offer training similar to that of an educational environment
# Benefit the intern
# Not displace regular employees
# Provide no immediate benefit to the employer
# Not necessarily entitle the intern to a paid position
# Set clear expectations that the internship is of an educational nature and that the intern is not to be paid

Not all six factors must be completely met in order for the individual to be considered an intern or trainee. Still, the experience should reflect a true learning or training experience as opposed to a job. Tools such as Paycor’s HR Support Center can provide intern vs. employee guides to help you determine who counts as an intern and who does not.

Here are some questions you can ask to further clarify whether or not you have a properly classified unpaid internship position. The more you can answer “yes” to the following questions, the less likely the DOL will be able to build a case that the worker should have been paid:

* Is the work a key part of the individual’s course of study?
* Does the individual receive educational credit for the work?
* Do you have written documentation stating that the internship is approved/sponsored by the school as educationally relevant?
* Does the individual get the opportunity to learn a skill, process or other business function?
* Does the individual work for the purpose of learning and not solely performing a task for the employer?
* Does one of your staff members supervise the individual?
* Does the individual provide benefit to you less than 50 percent of the time?
* Does the individual understand that a job is not guaranteed upon completion of the internship?

If your organization is considering some form of internship opportunity, make sure you develop a clear program that fits the specific needs of the business and of the intern, and clearly define the intern’s role and expectations right from the start.

Where can I find great interns to hire?

In addition to your website and online job boards, consider using LinkedIn to find students who are looking for internships. The Millennials and the generation after them (sometimes called Generation Z) are digital natives who are proficient at using social media, so your business can benefit from connecting with them on their terms.

Employee referrals are often a source for great interns. Ask current and past interns to recommend their friends and classmates, or ask current employees to refer younger family members. In addition to allowing you to hire good people more quickly, using employee referrals is generally more cost-effective and inclusive of your employees.

Lastly, don’t forget to contact the career services offices at local colleges and schools, which can connect you with promising young talent. Be sure to ask them about any career fairs they may sponsor during the year so you can obtain a booth.

How can I keep my interns engaged?

Remember that most of your interns will be in the Millennial generation. As such, your interns will expect:

* Continuous feedback, coaching and mentorship
* Ongoing training and development opportunities
* Real work experience, not menial tasks
* Inclusion in the day-to-day life of your workplace

Learn more about what Millennials are looking for in this article about managing a multigenerational workforce.

Highly engaged interns are good for your organization’s future and great for your employment brand. After all, this summer’s intern could become next fall’s new hire, who could be an integral part of your organization’s future success. Treat them not as a mere extra set of hands, but as an investment in the future of your business. Even if the intern does not eventually become a full-time employee, his or her friends or classmates might. You certainly wouldn’t want to discourage fresh, young talent from applying for jobs because their friend interned with you and had a negative experience.

As you are recruiting, hiring and engaging interns, keep in mind that Paycor’s solutions can assist you every step of the way:
* Our Applicant Tracking system can help you manage the entire recruiting process, including tracking the mountains of resumes you’ll receive when you post your internship position
* Time and Attendance can accurately track interns’ hours worked to help you stay in compliance with DOL regulations
* Our human resource management application can keep records of all an intern’s projects, so you have a digital paper trail in case of an audit or investigation

Want to learn more about how these solutions can power your organization’s success? Reach out to Paycor today.


Sources: Business Insider, HR Support Center, US Small Business Administration

This content is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.