In the second quarter of 2014, the Ministry of Labour
conducted an enforcement "blitz," targeting companies in
several sectors with intern programs to determine if those programs
were being operated in a manner consistent with the
Employment Standards Act.
A quick refresher: the vast majority of people who perform work
in the province of Ontario are subject to the Employment
Standards Act. The Act sets out various minimum
entitlements for those workers, most notably the minimum wage.
Internships, as a general rule, must be paid unless they fall
within one of several well-defined but narrow exceptions.
Out of 56 businesses in the GTA inspected during the blitz, 37
compliance orders were issued. Compliance orders indicate that in
the eyes of the Ministry there was at least one violation of the
Act that required correcting. As well as issuing compliance orders,
the Ministry demanded that the businesses pay out over $48,000 in
back pay. All but one of the employers paid their employees
according to the Ministry's instructions. The final employer
was subject to an order to pay the outstanding amount.
Interestingly, of the companies that had active intern programs
at the time of the blitz, 13 were exempt from the law, five were
legally compliant, and 13 were in breach of the Act. If that
proportion of non-compliance is common to intern programs across
the province, then employers could be liable for a sizable amount
in back pay and wages.
There is no indication that the Ministry intends to change its
enforcement stance on unpaid internships. Indeed, the recent
attention paid to this area without any corresponding legislative
changes could mean the new found gusto for enforcement may be
Employers who have internship programs must be wary of the state
of the law, and ensure that their program meets the minimum
requirements set out in the Act or qualifies for an exception. The
exceptions to the requirements to pay workers minimum wages are
limited and circumscribed. If an employer intends to rely on such
an exception, they must be active about monitoring the law and the
conditions of the workplace, as a failure to meet the requirements
of the exception could give rise to a claim for unpaid wages the
length of the internship, as well as other potential
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