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Is your unpaid internship program legal in Minnesota?

It's hard to believe it with all of this gloomy weather, but summer has almost arrived in Minnesota. For a great number of college students, this means that it is time to begin a summer internship. Many Twin Cities employers offer internships as a way to provide an introductory work experience to young students. Internships are often mutually beneficial for employers and interns.

The interns make connections, earn a line on their resumes and learn firsthand whether a particular line of work is something they enjoy. Employers are able to benefit by identifying potential hires as well as hearing the ideas of bright young minds. However, a number of internship programs have been under fire in recent years and employers would do well to take a look at whether their programs comply with labor laws.

One of the trickiest issues with internships is that they are generally unpaid. Although interns stand a lot to gain in these unpaid positions, a number of lawsuits have recently cropped up by interns who accused employers of violating their right to wages. This tends to happen when interns believe that they should actually be classified as employees.

A group of interns have sued Hearst Corporation for allegedly misclassifying them as interns. While that lawsuit is still making its way through the court system, the interns were dealt a blow last month when a judge denied the interns class action certification.

Employers here in the Twin Cities should be very careful not to classify employees as interns. In order for a worker to be classified as an intern and thus receive no wages, the employment relationship must meet the following United States Department of Labor regulations:

  1. The internship must include educational training.
  2. The internship must benefit the intern.
  3. The intern must not take the place of employees.
  4. The intern must not offer an immediate benefit to the employer.
  5. The intern may not be automatically entitled to a paid job at the end of the internship.
  6. The intern must understand that he or she is not entitled to any wages.

Source: Forbes, "Unpaid Interns Lack Class, Says New York Court," Betty Graumlich, May 16, 2013

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