Enterprising high school and college students often spend at least part of their summers engaged in internships. What better way to test-drive a career and gain valuable job skills than to spend a few weeks immersed in the corporate culture?
Recent headlines suggest, however, that when it comes to the legalities of hiring interns, businesses should beware. Last month, Sirius XM Radio agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle claims that it violated U.S. labor laws by not paying interns. The settlement came on the heels of similar cases involving such high-profile companies as Fox Searchlight Pictures and The Hearst Corp.
“It is advisable to coordinate any internship with an educational institution, whether a college or vocational school,” said Thomas F. Doherty, a partner with McCarter & English’s labor and employment practice in Newark. “That is the safest approach because (the internship) has an educational benefit that has been recognized by a school, which should make it hard for disgruntled interns to come back and say they should have been paid.”
“If the person is rendering any services, then for $8.38 an hour, New Jersey minimum wage, you can be sure you are not going to be sued at least for not paying them wages.” On the other hand, he added, “Once you start paying somebody, you then wind up putting them in the category of employees for other purposes–for example, employment discrimination or employment retaliation and the like.”