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Getting an intern is easy, right? Put an ad on Craigslist, hire someone who will work for nothing, make them get your coffee, done! Not so fast. The Department of Labor has clearly specified who qualifies as an intern, and employers who throw the title around willy-nilly can face some serious misclassification charges. Before you make the decision to start a paid or unpaid internship, read through these guidelines. Make sure an unpaid internship benefits the intern, not the employer. This is the real meat-and-potatoes issue behind properly classifying an intern as unpaid. If an intern is clearly there to learn (not to do the work of a regular employee), and has extra supervision (or shadows other employees), they are gaining education and experience and do not need to be paid. If the intern is doing the regular day-to-day work of the employer, has the same supervision as other employees, and in general is benefiting the employer, they must be paid at least minimum wage and overtime for hours worked over 40 per week.   An intern that is hired in place of an employee, is not really an intern. Unpaid interns are not meant to take the place of regular employees and should not be hired to "lighten the load" for a business. As they are there to learn, interns should never take on the full responsibilities of a position or act as a full-time staff member. Providing extra supervision and changing tasks regularly are good ways to keep the internship legitimate.   Don’t make promises. Setting a clear timeline for an internship is important, but promising employment after that term ends suggests that the intern is actually an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and must be paid minimum wage.  Work with educational establishments to offer course credit in exchange for the internship. One of the keys to proper unpaid-intern use is that the "intern" must benefit from the position. Many colleges and universities work with businesses to structure internships as educational arrangements, setting up goals and curriculum to accompany the position. If the employer keeps up their side of this arrangement, they shouldn’t have trouble proving they didn’t treat the intern incorrectly. As with anything, get it in writing. At the beginning of the internship, have the intern sign an acknowledgment form, outlining the length of the internship, and what role the intern will play. NOTE: having an “intern” sign a document agreeing to not be paid does not protect an employer from being charged with classifying them incorrectly.  With these guidelines in mind, legally employing an intern should be a breeze – but maybe go easy on them when it comes to Starbucks runs!  Click here to order our brand new, all-in-one federal compliance poster for your break room. Looking for more informaiton? Click here to learn more about available resources for your business.