HR Support on Trainees, Volunteers and Interns

Editor's Note: Unpaid internships and training programs are allowed only under strict rules.

Michael CardmanOverview: Internships and other training programs can benefit employers in several ways. The most significant perhaps is the chance to observe the intern in action, which can help the employer to evaluate an intern's job fitness more deeply than a résumé, references and interviews ever could. Also, the experience that interns and trainees gain can help prepare them to contribute immediately once they start work, unlike other hires who may require on-the-job training.

Trainees and interns should be paid the minimum wage and overtime, as required for all employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), unless very strict criteria are met. Employers that wish to establish unpaid internships or training programs should carefully follow guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor and be sure they are following any relevant state requirements, as well.

Trends: A prominent lawsuit involving unpaid interns who worked for the Fox Searchlight movie studio has brought national attention to the issue. Such litigation can sometimes inspire copycat lawsuits, so employers that engage unpaid interns or trainees should be prepared for the possibility of a court challenge.

Author: Michael Cardman, Legal Editor

New and Updated

  • Type:
    Legal Insight

    Updated to reflect information on a 7th Circuit ruling regarding the US Department of Labor's six-factor test to determine whether an intern or trainee qualifies as an employee.

  • Employee Classification: Federal

    Employment Law Manual

    Updated to remove December 1, 2016, overtime requirements that will not be implemented or enforced.

  • Interns

    April 18, 2014
    Editor's Choice

    When school is out, many students and new graduates look to gain real-world experience through internships. However, an employer hoping to take advantage of these interns as a source of free labor should think twice. Unless an internship satisfies strict criteria, interns must be treated like employees, meaning they must be paid the minimum wage and overtime.

  • Does an employer have to pay interns?


  • How to Structure an Unpaid Internship or Training Program

    How To

    This How To details the steps a prudent employer should take to increase the likelihood that interns or trainees are not employees.

  • Employee Classification: Arizona

    Employment Law Manual

    In-depth review of the spectrum of Arizona employment law requirements HR must follow with respect to Employee Classification.

  • Volunteer

    Employment Glossary

    Employment glossary definition of Volunteer.