17 November 2015

Interns Part 1: paid or unpaid?

So you’re thinking about hiring an intern.
But you don’t know if you’re supposed to pay them, what exactly it is they should/can do, and how to find one. You’re not entirely sure how the whole thing works, how it will benefit the organization or if it’s worth it.
You are not alone.
Ask most people to describe an intern and they’ll talk about a young person, some Gen Y, either keen or entitled, often imagined fetching coffee. The reality isn’t quite so Hollywood, and nor should it be. The truth is that interns are as unique in their backgrounds, personality, and competencies as any other employee in your organization. And that’s a first key point; an intern isn’t a young person who is brought on solely to fetch coffee or print papers for free or a small sum. Your new intern will be an employee, a person who can contribute to your organization, and down the road may be one of your best senior employees or even a future client.
This still doesn’t answer those important questions you had from earlier though. To begin with, in this blog, let’s tackle the question or whether to pay an intern or not in the Canadian context.
Unfortunately, there’s no straight easy answer to this question.  It depends largely on the province in which you find yourself.  However, in most cases interns are legally required to be paid unless they fall within two categories, generally determined to be:

  • The work they are completing is part of an educational program (often arranged through the University/College) where they are receiving credit for their work.
  • They are participating in training that is part of specific professional or vocational work such as for lawyers, architects, dentistry, etc.

Each province is different though, for example:

  1. Quebec’s An Act Respecting LabourStandards allows an internship to be unpaid if it is specifically a role where the intern is a student working for a not-for-profit organization with social or community purposes.
  2. In New Brunswick there are provisions for mandatory minimum wage for most employees, but it is unclear whether interns are considered as employees under the Employment Standards Act.

Check out the Canadian Intern Association for a breakdown on the various rules for each province.
In addition, if your organization is federally regulated then you are subject to the Canada Labour Code, rather than provincial legislation. Federally regulated organizations include banks, mobile network operators, broadcasters and airlines.
Overall, it pays to be diligent and seek out counsel if you’re not planning on paying your interns. An article by Christopher Munroe at Gowlings law firm notes that “just because an intern agrees that he or she will not be paid does not mean that the employer is complying with their provincial employment standards. Any such clause in an oral or written contract is null and void if it contravenes the respective law.”
In conclusion, when deciding whether to pay your intern(s) you need to think about the following:

  • Which provincial or federal legislation are you subject to?
  • Will you be organizing your internships through accredited educational institutions?
  • Are your interns completing work that is related to a professional designation?
  • Can you really not afford to at least pay your intern(s) minimum wage for their contributions to your organization?

Most organizations will likely opt to remunerate their interns to some degree for various reasons, including to comply with legislation and to recognize the work being completed by these employees. Of course there are exceptions.  Certain organizations, notably not-for-profits, may operate within alternative frameworks that do not allow for paid internships.
In general though, if you can manage to pay your intern it is likely best to do so. Investing in your employees helps them invest in return. Although internships are normally finite in nature and your intern will likely only be with your organization for a short period of time, their influence and impact may resound long after they are gone.
Check back soon for a blog with tips on how to find and engage the best intern for your organization!