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SUMMER IS COMING: Massachusetts Compliance Requirements with Respect to Summer Internship Programs

April 29, 2019 Leave a comment

MLM Headshot Photo 2019 (M1341570xB1386)By: Matthew Mitchell

For the Morse Employment Law Group, the arrival of spring is marked, not by the blooming of vernal flowers, but, rather, by the steady increase of inquiries related to summer interns.

A summer internship program is often an important component of an employer’s annual business cycle: internships help connect an employer to its surrounding academic communities; internships can facilitate an employer’s civic engagement; and such programs can serve as an efficient recruitment tool, particularly in tight job markets. Despite the prevalence and value of such programs, some employers tend to see their summer interns as “casual” or “unregulated” employees. It should be noted, however, that the employment of summer interns, particularly with respect to interns who are under age 18, is a highly regulated area of Massachusetts law.

Below are a few key concepts to keep in mind:

Paid versus Unpaid Interns

Massachusetts employers must compensate their interns – at, at least, a minimum wage rate – for work performed, unless the internship program qualifies as a “training program in a charitable, educational or religious institution.” The Massachusetts Attorney General and the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards have interpreted this standard, narrowly, to mean that an employer may not engage an intern on an unpaid basis, unless the following factors are strictly met:

  • The internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework, or the receipt of academic credit.
  • The intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
  • The internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
  • The internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  • The internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  • The intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  • The intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

As such, absent very limited circumstances, Massachusetts employers must pay their interns.

School-Aged Interns

Offering internship opportunities to minor children adds another layer of regulatory complexity:

  • Massachusetts child labor laws limit the hours a worker who is under age 18 may work, and limit the types of job functions such workers may perform. In fact, there are at least 49 discrete laws that define and limit, very specifically, the type of work employees under age 18 may engage in. For example:  workers under age 18 may not be employed in jobs that require the operation of electrical machinery; workers under age 16 may not be employed in a manufacturing facility.
  • Massachusetts law requires employers to obtain Youth Employment Permits (work permits) for all workers under 18. In Massachusetts, children under 14 may not work at all, except in very limited cases.
  • In Massachusetts, workers under 18 may not enter into contractual restrictions (such as non-disclosure or assignment of invention clauses), without parental consent, and may not be subject to non-competition agreements at all.
  • There may be enhanced workers’ compensation premium obligations and benefit protections for workers under age 18, depending on the circumstances.

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To the extent that you are considering engaging summer interns this year, we recommend a brief consultation with a member of the Morse Employment Law Group. As with all matters related to Wage and Hour laws, a non-compliant summer internship program may result in significant penalties and litigation liability.

For more information, please contact Matthew Mitchell or Amanda Thibodeau.

Employment Law Clip: Internships – Paid or Unpaid?

April 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Student internships have become increasingly popular, and while internships generally benefit employers and interns alike, there is uncertainty regarding whether internships may be paid or unpaid. This video explains the importance of distinguishing between the nonprofit and for profit sector and the regulations that apply to each.

Want more information? Try some of our other resources on this topic:

Please feel free to contact any member of our Employment Law Group with any questions on paid or unpaid internships.

MBBP’s Employment Law Clip Series provides quick, easy-to-digest snapshots of common Employment issues, as well as practical information on how to avoid complicated, expensive and time-consuming pitfalls. Stay tuned for the next topic on Restrictive Employment Agreements.