Exploring the business case for paid internships.
By Sydney Helland, Career Edge Organziation
The paid versus unpaid internship debate has intensified in the Ontario business community as the Ministry of Labour cracks down on internships that violate the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA). Meanwhile, employers face continuous pressure to cut costs and stimulate economic growth, making unpaid internships ever more appealing. But can they really help businesses achieve results?
Unpaid internships have been common among both public and private organizations for decades, especially in tough economic times. But, economic uncertainty and budget constraints should not be allowed to compromise employment equity and fairness, internships or otherwise.
In Ontario, both paid and unpaid internships are regulated by the ESA, which stipulates that if a person performs work for another person or an organization, they are considered to be an employee; the term “intern” is essentially irrelevant. As employees, interns are entitled to ESA rights, such as minimum wage, vacation, overtime, and occupational health and safety.
However, there are exceptions for unpaid internships, albeit very limited ones, which are typically restricted to vocational training for college and university students. According to the ESA, an intern is generally considered an employee unless all of the conditions below are met:
- The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school,
- The training is for the benefit of the intern; the intern receives some benefit from the training, such as new knowledge or skills,
- The employer derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the intern while he or she is being trained,
- The intern does not take the job of someone else,
- The employer is not promising a job at the end of the training, and
- The intern has been told that they will not be paid for their time.