Unpaid internships a costly risk

Employers can find themselves in legal trouble if their interns are doing somebody’s job instead of learning
By David Whitten
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 05/29/2013

Unpaid internships — as part of co-op programs or partnerships with community colleges and universities — are well established in workplaces across Canada. These placement programs offer tangible value to both the employer and the intern. Companies recruit more effectively and students gain skills and connections to help them find that all-important first job after graduation.

However, unpaid internships also have a dark side. Recent graduates, desperate for experience and facing the toughest job market in a generation, are increasingly being lured into unpaid internships with promises or suggestions of eventual paid employment.

Sometimes the employer is just unscrupulous and interested only in free labour. The business owner or company purposely dangles the prospect of a job and then works the graduate long and hard before showing her the door at the end of the placement period. These unethical employers then move on to the next naive young person hoping for employment.