Unpaid interns and the wedding industry

“Who’s been eating my macaroons? YOU’RE ALL FIRED!”

OK, so you’re a successful wedding planner and you’ve got a couple college students that want to intern at your company.

“Look, I’m not trying to pay someone to learn.”

But wait, what if THEY ARE WILLING TO WORK FOR FREE? Well, that changes the whole situation doesn’t it? Just think. You’re legs up on the desk, and you’ve got a team full of young acolytes doing your bidding.

Slow down, sparky. Before you have that intern get you a mocha-whatever (one stevia, one dairy-free creamer), be advised that free intern might not be so free. Here’s the deal. YOU as a business owner do not decide whether an intern position qualifies as paid or unpaid. The U.S. Department of Labor handles that for you.

There are very limited circumstances when an intern in the private sector may work without receiving compensation (i.e. at least minimum wage).  The Feds say that “determination of whether an internship or training program meets this exclusion depends upon all of the facts and circumstances of each such program,” and are evaluated on the following six criteria:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Again, straight from the Man: “If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern.  This exclusion from the definition of employment is necessarily quite narrow because the FLSA’s definition of “employ” is very broad. ”

You can read more about this at the US Department of Labor website. I’ve been hearing more and more about disgruntled former wedding interns coming back and filing FLSA claims, so be sure to conduct an evaluation of whether you qualify for the ‘free’ exception. Otherwise, you might be the one fetching the coffee………….for the wardon!