summer intern

What Massachusetts Business Owners Should Know About Offering Summer Internships

Summer internships are a great way for businesses to recruit young talent. Giving a college student an internship at your company allows you to get to know each other, and see if there is a possible fit for future full-time employment. With one of the largest pools of college and postgraduate students in the country, Massachusetts businesses are well-situated to recruit some of the top talent in the nation. This gives you a leg up on the competition, allowing you to draw from one of the deepest talent pools around. 

Nevertheless, there are some key things you need to keep in mind regarding summer internship laws here in Massachusetts. The most important involves pay requirements for interns. This is why it is crucial that you are aware of the applicable internship laws here in Massachusetts before you begin the recruiting process this summer. 

Who Can Be a Volunteer Intern? 

When many business owners consider setting up a summer internship program, they imagine that they can get these students to volunteer their services in exchange for experience. These owners are probably looking to get free work from the intern, with the promise of a future reference and a spot on the student’s resume providing sufficient compensation. However, Massachusetts internship law is very narrowly defined when it comes to unpaid internships. 

The Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards (DLS) refers to unpaid interns as volunteers. Before you can retain an intern as an unpaid volunteer, you need to see if your summer internship program qualifies. In general, if you are able to give the intern academic credit toward their degree, then you are not required to pay the intern. In addition, charitable and religious organizations can get exemptions from paying interns. This is why most of the unpaid internship programs here in Massachusetts are run by religious, educational, and charitable institutions. If you are running a business, it is doubtful that you will be able to fall within one of these exemptions. 

If the intern is a “trainee”, then the intern may be unpaid. This is a narrow exception, and when determining whether a program qualifies as a “training program, the DLS has adopted the primary beneficiary test under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This law sets forth seven factors that need to be taken into account to determine if the interns will have to be paid. These revolve around the specific aspects of the program, and generally require that they have some connection to the intern’s academic course of study. It also has a requirement that the intern not displace an existing paid employee, and that there is no promise of a job at the end of the training period. The test is flexible, but also weighs more in classifying the person as a paid intern and not a volunteer. A great deal will depend on the description of the summer internship and the particulars of your firm’s program. 

What Are the Payment Requirements for Interns? 

If you are unable to fall within one of the exceptions that will allow you to hire an intern as a volunteer, then your summer internship program will be subject to the Massachusetts minimum wage law. At this time, this requires employers to pay interns at least $15.00 per hour for the services they render to the business during the course of the summer internship program. 

Massachusetts has onerous penalties if you misclassify an intern. This will be based upon the specific circumstances of your internship. For example, if you retain an intern as a volunteer, but it is later determined by the Massachusetts DLS applying the FLSA that the intern should have been paid, the intern will be entitled to recover treble damages against your business. This means that you will have to give the intern $45.00 per hour in back pay due to the failure to characterize the intern correctly under the FLSA. 

If You Have Any Questions About Your Summer Internship Program 

Massachusetts employment law is filled with many technicalities. This is especially true of summer internship programs. A great many companies here fall into the trap of thinking they can retain unpaid volunteers and end up paying the price when the DLS investigates their programs.