Back in May I noted that the Department of Labor (DOL) was cracking down an unpaid internships across the country. If your firm has unpaid interns or is considering them in the future, here are some considerations for how to deal with them.
Make it clear and put it in writing
As noted by this employment law partner, draft a written agreement that outlines the internship. At a minimum, the agreement should reference the six components listed by the DOL in their internship fact sheet.
In particular, express what skills you hope to provide through the internship—detail what you hope to teach them. Not only does this comply with the DOL, it creates expectations for both you and the intern. This, in turn, will hopefully lead to a more productive internship for all parties involved.
Be direct and be realistic about job possibilities at your firm. The DOL requires a disclosure that the intern may not be entitled to a job at your firm at the end of the internship. If there is almost no chance of the intern getting hired, be realistic without being a jerk. You can explain that just because there are no jobs now, there may be opportunities in the future or that you can write them a recommendation letter at the end. Most students are aware of the job market, so there is no need to beat around the bush.
Make an effort to make it worthwhile for the intern
Compliance with the DOL fact sheet does not guarantee a great internship experience. The time and effort you put into it is what will drive the experience for the intern. Even putting in an extra ten minutes to help an intern with a writing sample can make all the difference. Your pocketbook can probably handle buying the intern lunch once a month and it will give you some time outside the office to connect with them.
Undoubtedly, you once had an unpaid internship that was not that great. Now is your chance to create a great experience for someone else.