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Paid Interns are Employees: 3 Rules to Engage

Written by Guest Author on October 27, 2020
3 min read

Paid Interns are Employees: 3 Rules to Engage

By Cara Zibbell

Just as our workplaces (or lack thereof) are evolving, so are the career development opportunities that stem from them. Talent Acquisition strategy begins as early as the internship phase. And to continue building on that momentum, leaders are enhancing their intern program design to elevate the experience and expand through virtual capabilities.

While internships may have previously been viewed as obligatory coursework, today’s programs represent diverse backgrounds, experience levels, and all stages of life. In addition to our usual perception of internship candidates, moms, dads, veterans, and other unique talent are returning to the workforce to embrace new careers as paid interns. This renewed influx of talent is benefitting our workforce with new perspectives and wide-ranging skillsets!

When it comes to recruiting, hiring, and the overall employee experience, it’s vital to create an all-inclusive, equitable work environment. Paid interns are W-2 employees and entitled to the same rights and protections the law provides to non-intern roles. And there are more than a few rules of engagement.

3 Rules for Engaging Your Interns:

1. Be Equitable. 

We’ve established that paid interns are not always students. And not all working college students are interns. But most importantly, all interns are a part of your workforce. So, make sure you are treating them fairly and in compliance with federal and local labor laws. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and minimum wage laws, among others, apply to paid interns. Employers must safeguard time for meals and breaks as well as provide overtime wages to paid interns. In addition to compensation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), says that Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) should offer employees who work at least 30 hours/week the opportunity to enroll in employer-sponsored health group insurance coverage after 90 days of full-time employment.

2. Invest in Potential.

It’s critical to understand what talent investments mean to your future workforce. Paid interns offer their valuable contributions to your work culture. They expand your talent pool, grow diversity of thought, and reinforce business values. Employees must be paid at least the applicable minimum wage for all hours worked including qualifying overtime. But a comprehensive Talent Acquisition strategy calls for a greater investment. If you can pay more than minimum wage, you should. 

Depending on the market and evolving minimum wage regulations from state to state, employers should aim to stay ahead of the trends. Assess the value of the work today. The scope of an internship’s work should not mirror an existing job function. Paid interns are not intended to be a substitute for other professional positions such as administrative assistants. If an intern is utilized in the same capacity as an admin role, that intern must be paid for the job in parity with the W-2.

3. Engage an Expert.

Consider whether the length with which you are looking to employ this intern is worth the onboarding and training efforts.  Onboarding paid interns for a few months can be an administrative burden; in essence, they must go through the same onboarding process as a full-time W-2, even if only temporary.  Ask yourself if the scope of work can be spread out over a longer period of time, such as a file audit project, rather than shorter definitive projects. It’s imperative to onboard these workers correctly and provide an experience that aligns with corporate values and government guidelines. For instance, did you know that interns working full-time hours beyond 90 days are eligible for employer benefits?

To assure compliance, you must stay on top of legislation that constantly changes and fully understand the ins-and-outs of payrolling and employment classifications. It can be complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. Engage an expert to ensure paid interns are compensated fairly, classified correctly, and brought onboard according to all relevant labor laws. 

Change is all around us these days. Embracing the opportunity to grow along with it, keeps us creative. As we continue investing in our people and moving programs forward, our people return that value to our workforce.


About the Author:

Cara Zibbell is a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and the Executive Director of Human Resources and Compliance at Atrium Staffing and Workforce Solutions. With a passion for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, her 23-year career journey is dedicated to developing people and their potential.

By Cara Zibbell

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Symba partners with a variety of guest authors and thought leaders to provide you with remote work and workforce development content.

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