WAGE AND HOUR BULLETIN: An intern or an employee?

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Wage and Huur Basnner

Wage and Hour News


July 2021

An intern or an employee?

July 29 is National Intern Day. It encourage companies’ recognition of hardworking interns. With recent changes in federal law, here are updated guidelines regarding internships for employers.

Defining “intern”

An intern participates in work-related learning through hands-on experience. Under certain conditions, interns may perform unpaid work. Whether an intern is considered an employee depends on all of the circumstances surrounding their activities at work.

If an intern is in fact more like an employee, then the intern would be entitled to all the protections of the Minimum Wage Act, including minimum wage, overtime, paid sick leave, payment of tips and service charges, and protections from retaliation for exercising these rights. If an intern is not an employee, then none of the Minimum Wage Act protections apply.

Defining the intern’s relationship with the employer

Courts have identified seven factors to determine whether an intern is an employee. Employers must weigh and consider all these factors together to make a determination on whether the intern is an employee.

  • An intern and their employer must clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee.
  • An internship should provide training that would be similar to an educational environment.
  • An internship should connect to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or receiving academic credit.
  • An internship should accommodate the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  • An internship’s length should be limited to a period that provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  • An intern’s work should complement, instead of displace, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  • An intern and their employer should understand that the intern is not entitled to a paid job at end of the internship.

Paid vs. unpaid internships

An intern may receive compensation such as a stipend or reimbursement for expenses during their internship, but this cannot be in the form of a regular wage. If an employer pays a regular wage similar to other employees, the intern is an employee.

Please note: Internships are not the same as on-the-job training, which is generally considered hours worked, and must be paid. See L&I’s Administrative Policy ES.C.2 – Hours Worked for more details. Internships are also not the same as working in a registered apprenticeship.

Learn more about internships, apprenticeships, volunteers and other relevant topics on the L&I website.

You can register for a webinar that provides an overview of pay requirements and other workplace rights at L&I’s calendar of workshops, events and webinars. Look for Employer Guide to Workers’ Rights” or “Know Your Worker Rights” in the “Event Title” pull down menu.

Contact L&I’s Employment Standards Program at:
Phone: 1-866-219-7321
Email: esgeneral@lni.wa.gov
Website: Lni.wa.gov