Unpaid Internships – Free Labour or Valuable Training?

Sep 30, 2013

Unpaid internships are prevalent in today’s economy. However, being labelled an ‘intern’ is not the end of the story, as far as wages are concerned.

The Employment Standards Act, or ESA, provides legal protection to “employees” in Ontario. Generally, someone is an employee if he or she performs work for another person, company or organization. There are some exceptions, but they are limited.

The ESA does not consider a trainee to be an employee. To be a trainee, several conditions must be met:

  • the training must be unpaid and must be similar to what a vocational school would provide;
  • it must be for the benefit of the individual and provide little benefit to the employer;
  • no employees should be displaced by the trainee; and
  • there should not be a promise of employment at the end of the training.

In addition to the exemption for trainees, if an individual performs work as part of an approved university or college of applied arts and technology program, then he or she is not considered an employee. This would typically be a co-op education program.

The ESA does not mention interns. However, if your position does not meet the two exemptions above, then you are likely an employee and entitled to minimum wage from your employer (typically $10.25 per hour). This is true even if you have agreed to be an unpaid intern and have a contract that states you will not be paid.

If you have been offered an unpaid internship, or are currently working as an unpaid intern, and you want to speak with an employment lawyer with experience in this area, contact us at  [email protected] or 1-888-640-1728 (toll free) or 647-633-9894 (within the GTA).

For more information about Employment Standards, read here.

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