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Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog

Hiring Interns this Summer? Tips to Avoid the Common Pitfalls of Summer Internship Programs - July 12, 2012

Summer is in full swing, and with summer comes an influx of summer interns and potential pitfalls for the unwary employer. The following tips will help you steer clear of any prospective problems.


Most interns must be paid.

Generally, internships may only be unpaid if the internship meets the following criteria:

  • The training, even though it includes actual operations of the facilities of the employers, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school.
  • The training is for the benefit of the student.
  • The student does not displace a regular employee, but works under the close observation of a regular employee or supervisor.
  • The employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the student; and on occasion, the operations may actually be impeded by the training.
  • The student is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period.
  • The employer and the student understand that the student is not entitled to wages for the time spent training.

Paid interns must be compensated in compliance with minimum wage and overtime laws.


Interns are generally eligible for unemployment benefits unless the internship is part of an accredited educational experience

Employers generally must provide unemployment insurance for interns unless all of the following factors apply:

  • The intern is enrolled as a student in a full time program at a non-profit or public educational institution;
  • The non-profit or public educational institution where the intern is enrolled maintains a regular faculty and curriculum and has a regular body of students in attendance at the place where educational activities take place;
  • The intern is receiving credit for the program;
  • The program combines academic instruction with work experience;
  • The educational institution has certified to the employer that the internship is an integral part of the program; and
  • The service provided by the intern is not being performed in a program established for or on behalf of an employer or a group of employers.

Supervision is key

If interns are provided only with the same level of supervision as normal employees, this suggests an employment relationship, not a valid unpaid internship.


All laws regarding underage workers apply equally to the employment of interns.

Immigration laws apply!

  • All paid interns are subject to I-9 requirements: Under the employer sanctions law, an employer must complete the form I-9 when it hires any person to perform services in the United States in return for wages or other compensation.
  • Ensure that interns are actually authorized to work in the United States.

Stay conscious of HIPAA and other privacy concerns.

  • Interns, both paid and unpaid, will generally be considered part of a covered entity's "workforce" for HIPAA compliance purposes.  Be sure that all training and other requirements are met.