Understanding Internships in British Columbia

As summer approaches, the topic of internships becomes relevant for students and recent graduates seeking valuable work experience. However, the question arises: Do employers in British Columbia need to pay interns? Let’s delve into the regulations surrounding internships in the province.

What is an internship?

An “internship” is on-the-job training offered by an employer to provide a person with practical experience. Often internships are offered to persons who have completed a diploma or degree program and are seeking employment. Completing an internship does not itself result in an academic certificate or diploma.

Does an Employer have to pay wages during an internship?

The general rule in British Columbia is that a person is entitled to be paid for substantive work performed.  In the most basic terms, if what the intern is doing looks like work that an employee would perform, then that individual is entitled to be paid for that work.  The intern is entitled to be paid at least minimum wage, vacation pay, statutory holiday pay, and overtime.

The exception to this is a student that is enrolled in a formal education program, usually working towards a degree or diploma, and is enrolled in a “practicum” as part of their curriculum.  Employers that engage practicum students do not need to pay wages during the practicum as this is not considered “work” under the Employment Standards Act.

Insights for Students

Students seeking valuable experience should understand their options when pursuing unpaid opportunities. Volunteering can be a viable and rewarding option, but it is contingent upon factors such as the nature of the work, the number of hours involved, and the organization’s profit status. If the company is a for-profit entity, the Employment Standards Branch is more likely to consider the work as employment, entitling the student to compensation. It is also essential to ensure that the hours contributed are genuinely voluntary.

Key Takeaways for Employers and Students

1. Employer Awareness: Employers must exercise caution when individuals offer to work for free, as the Employment Standards Branch is likely to rule in favour of compensation for services provided. Establishing that the internship is in fact a practicum is crucial for meeting the exemption criteria.

2. Student Considerations: Students looking for valuable experience should explore volunteering opportunities primarily with not-for-profit organizations. It is crucial to ensure that the student’s commitment is genuinely voluntary to avoid potential legal issues.

3. Paid Internships as an Alternative: Employers seeking to provide students or recent graduates with beneficial experiences should consider short-term paid internships. For example, a three-month paid internship over the summer offers a chance to evaluate potential employees and determine their fit within the company. Paid internships can be a viable option for employers who cannot commit to hiring full-time employees but still want to provide valuable learning and development opportunities.

Contact Kent Employment Law

In British Columbia, unpaid internships are exceptions rather than the norm. Employers should carefully assess the circumstances and ensure compliance with the Employment Standards Act. On the other hand, students looking for experience should be aware of their rights and explore volunteering options. Paid internships can also be an excellent alternative for employers to provide meaningful experiences to recent graduates. By understanding the regulations and options available, both employers and students can navigate the internship landscape in British Columbia effectively.

If you have any questions on paid or unpaid internships, contact the lawyers at Kent Employment Law.

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