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3 Important Tips When Hiring Interns

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 27, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Internships sound like a win-win for all involved: employers get access to new ideas and perspectives, all unpaid; and students and people entering the field gain valuable insight and experience. But those benefits don't come without risks.

There are rules when hiring interns, especially unpaid interns, and limits on what they can and cannot do. So to make sure your small business and your interns are getting the most out of the internship experienced, here are three things to think about:

1. Top 5 Tips for Startups Hiring Unpaid Interns

Unpaid internships are especially valuable to startups, and especially valuable to future entrepreneurs who get experience on the ground floor of a budding small business. But make sure you have your ducks in a row when advertising your internships, know what to ask in an interview, keep a close eye on your internship program, do your best to stay out of any legal trouble, and try and take that trouble to mediation if you can.

Our legal system has a lot of checks against unpaid labor. So if you're going to do the "unpaid" part, here's how to stay out of trouble with the "labor" part:

  1. Follow Department of Labor guidelines on internships, being careful that interns don't do work employees do, work at things an employee might do, don't impede regular employees, and are learning on the job.
  2. Figure out how the unpaid intern will affect your workers' compensation insurance plan, and whether he or she is covered under it in case of a workplace injury.
  3. Focus the intern on areas of learning, rather than core work of your business, thus avoiding any general liability issues or DOL violations.

3. How to Avoid Intern Lawsuits

No small business own wants to wind up in court, especially being accused of labor law violations. Have a detailed project plain for unpaid internships, and stick to it. (And make sure that plan is legal.)

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