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Intern, volunteer or employee in CA?

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  • Intern, volunteer or employee in CA?

    At our company we have a few students that help out. We and they call them "interns". There've been no complaints and they're generally happy to be working with us.

    However, recently it has come up - what are the legal definitions of an intern, volunteer or employee? Meaning when does work done as an intern qualify them as an employee?

    Some are getting class credit while others are not - their choice. We don't require course credit.

    There's debate on whether course credit changes the classification. IE, if they're getting credit they're an intern, if not they're a volunteer. If they're getting credit the school's insurance covers them, if not we do.

    Also, there've been times when they've been fairly integral in some tasks. Does the type of work they do change their classification? None of the work is particularly difficult or requiring specialized skills, however the interns are required to turn in the work on time and occaionally work extra/long hours.

    Is there a limit to the hours an intern can work?

    Sorry for the deluge of questions - I realize this isn't a replacement for talking to a lawyer. We're about to do that, but knowing a bit more information will better prepare us for that conversation.


    Edit: One important addition - these are unpaid interns. The recent debate was caused by one manager asking if we could could toss them a bonus or small check as a thanks.
    Last edited by Radium_SF; 07-06-2005, 04:36 PM.

  • #2
    I don't know that I can answer all your questions and I'm not in your state. But a few years ago, I investigated the possibility of bringing in some student interns for the bio lab where I was working at the time.

    One of the things I learned was that they can only be unpaid, if the benefit to the student is more than the benefit to the employer. In other words, if we would have had to hire someone else to do the work of the intern had they not been there, we had to pay them. On the other hand, if we were essentially making up work for them to do so that they could learn, but it didn't much matter to us if they were there or not, they could be unpaid. To the best of my knowledge class credit is not required for it to be a legitimate intern position, but it would be harder to establish that the benefit is more to the student than to the employer, if class credit is not being granted.

    To the best of my knowledge only non-profit organizations can use volunteer workers. A volunteer would be defined as someone who is not being paid for their work and is also not a student intern.

    At the same employer, we had someone who called us on several occasions BEGGING for us to allow him to work for us. He didn't care if we paid him or not; he was willing to work on a volunteer basis. He only wanted the experience. We investigated and were told that there were NO circumstances in which we could allow that since we were for-profit and not not-for-profit. It was up to us if we wanted to let him come work for us or not, but if we did, he HAD to be paid at least minimum wage. P.S. we didn't let him come work for us - we were suspicious of his desperation to work for us unpaid and thought he might be up to a little industrial espionage.

    The information above with regards to interns MAY be only within my state - I don't know. I had employees in CA at the time but it was only at the corporate facility in MA that we planned to use student interns. We eventually became part of a program where we paid a stipend to the schools, and they provided us with student workers, who were paid by the school.

    To the best of my knowledge the information on volunteers and non-profits is Federally mandated.
    The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.


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