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5 Tasks Your Summer Interns Shouldn't Handle

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

A summer intern's tasks should involve supervision. Television station KTVU and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are learning that the hard way.

During the California TV station's noon newscast last Friday, an anchor read aloud four fake names of the pilots of the Asiana Airlines jet that crash-landed in San Francisco. The racially insensitive names were reportedly confirmed by an intern with the NTSB.

It seems the NTSB either gave an unpaid intern the power of an employee, or it failed to properly supervise the intern.

Let this embarrassing gaffe serve as a cautionary tale for you. Here are five tasks your interns shouldn't handle:

  1. Tasks that involve unsupervised decision-making. This is the main Asiana debacle take-away point. The NTSB summer intern reportedly didn't know the pilot names were fake but went ahead and confirmed the names to KTVU as true, according to USA Today. Let's take a huge leap of faith and believe that he really didn't know those were fake names. The lesson is the same: Unsupervised unpaid interns who lack experience or company loyalty can be a liability. They shouldn't be left alone with your clients -- and they certainly shouldn't be making major decisions with clients. Some hand-holding is necessary to prevent a PR nightmare.
  2. Tasks that involve sensitive customer or employee information. Since summer interns go through a seasonal revolving door with your company, it's safest to limit their access to confidential company information. If you must give them data access, take precautions to prevent data theft. For example, consider drafting a non-disclosure agreement and enforcing a data theft policy.
  3. Tasks that focus on menial work. You may recall your coffee and copying days as a rite of passage to moving up the corporate totem pole -- but for unpaid interns, that's actually illegal. As we learned from the "Black Swan" unpaid intern case, internships should be educational (no, not about how to collate copies). That said, an unpaid internship that includes some menial tasks (like coffee brewing, file fetching, etc.) while simultaneously having a meaningful educational component, might pass muster as a legitimate internship.
  4. Tasks that regular employees usually do. Take a cue from Gawker and NBC's unpaid intern lawsuits and remember that interns can't be used like regular workers without paying them at least minimum wage. If you hire unpaid interns for your business, make sure that they aren't displacing or augmenting your normal workforce by doing the same tasks, or you may have to pay for it in court.
  5. Tasks that involve driving a car on "official" company business. It's probably best not to let unpaid interns drive official company cars on company business. The unpaid intern is an extension of the company, so your company could be vicariously liable for an intern's car wreck.

Of course, these are just a few examples of tasks your summer interns shouldn't handle. Because each business uses interns differently, you may want to consult an experienced employment lawyer for more guidance on how to deal with your interns.

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