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Understanding unpaid internship requirements

April is Internship Awareness Month, and with so many college students wrapping up classes or graduating soon, internships might be on the minds of job seekers and businesses alike. For businesses, internships are often a way to get free or low-cost help while also developing professionals for future positions. For the interns themselves, the opportunities can provide invaluable experience that strengthens their resume. Not every internship can be unpaid, though. Federal law requires certain guidelines be met if you aren't going to pay your interns.

First, while the intern might be expected to perform some job duties, the internship should provide the type of training that might be offered in an education environment; internships aren't about free labor -- they are about hands-on learning. Second, the internship must be created to support the benefit of the intern. The employer might benefit in a secondary fashion, but the company can't be the primary or sole beneficiary of the relationship.

Interns aren't temps. You can't hire an unpaid intern to replace other staff -- unpaid interns work closely with the staff you have to learn. You also don't promise the intern that they will have a job at the end of the internship, though you may always consider them for hire if they impressed you during the internship.

Finally, unpaid internships should be clear. The intern should understand up front that he or she is not entitled to pay for any work performed in the internship. To help avoid legal and human resource issues, consider consulting with a business lawyer prior to starting an internship program to understand whether you need to pay interns or not.

Source: Forbes, "6 Legal Requirements For Unpaid Internship Programs," accessed April 07, 2017

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