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Are Companies that Use Interns Breaking the Law?

Here’s a topic that won’t go away.  I did a post last fall suggesting that a lot of Canadian companies try to exploit young workers by calling them “interns” and not paying them according to the Employment Standards Act. Since then, I’ve had many inquiries about this.

A student group here at York recently asked me to post an internship that a major multinational corporation was recruiting for on campus.   I read the posting and pointed out to the student group that if the conditions were as described in the posting, that the internship would be illegal and that whatever student got the intern should file an Employment Standards complaint when their term is up.

If you are doing work as an “intern”, there is a good chance that you are in fact an employee and entitled to minimum wage, overtime, and vacation pay among other legal entitlements. And since you cannot contract out of the ESA, you can always file a complaint once your internship is up.  It is no defence for the employer to say that you “agreed to be an unpaid intern”.

Many employers seem to believe that all they have to do is call a job an internship and the rules of employment no longer apply.  In fact, a legal internship is a very specific and narrow job type.  Read my earlier posting.

I’m back on this topic because Andrew Langille, a lawyer in Toronto and student in the Osgoode LLM program (of which I am Director) recently wrote a paper on the topic of illegal unpaid interns in Canada.  His story was picked up by Associated Press and a story was recently published in the Huggington Post. Check out the story here.

Andrew is quoted as follows:

“I would say upwards of 95 per cent of unpaid internships (in Ontario) are probably illegal,” because interns are doing work typically performed by paid employees, he says. If you have an intern making coffee or researching articles . . . then they’re an employee, not an intern, and they should be getting minimum wage and all the other protection that comes with the Employment Standards Act.”

Read the sections of the ESA I quote in my blog entry.  What do you think?  Is Andrew right?

Are you an unpaid intern?  Leave a comment and tell us your story.

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One Response to Are Companies that Use Interns Breaking the Law?

  1. Jacko

    June 28, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Interesting that the larger media hasn’t picked this up thus far. Interesting read. Cheers Andrew for readdressing this issue.

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