With the end of another school year comes the annual insurgence
of students and new graduates into the marketplace, all of whom are
eager to build their resumes by gaining practical experience in
their chosen fields, even if that experience comes in the form of
an internship. "Intern" is a word that conjures up the
image of a young hopeful feverishly working away at a business in a
junior position for little or no pay (except, of course, a wealth
of practical experience).
While most employers are aware of their obligations to employees
under British Columbia's Employment Standards Act (the
"ESA"), when the phraseology shifts from
"employment" to "internship," some employers
assume their legal obligations to "interns" differ from
their legal obligations to "employees," as evidenced by
the Internship Inspection Blitz Report released by
the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
Practicums versus Internships
In interpreting the ESA, the British Columbia
Employment Standards Branch (the "ESB") makes a key
distinction between what they consider a practicum and an
Based on the interpretation of the ESB, a practicum is a part of
a formal education process for students enrolled in a public or
private post-secondary institution that involves the supervised
practical application of previously classroom taught theory related
to course study. The ESB considers a practicum to be hands-on
training that is required by the curriculum of the program, and
will result in a certificate or diploma. As such, a practicum is
not considered to be "work" for the purposes of the
ESA and is exempt from its provisions.
Internships however, are considered on-the-job training offered
by an employer to provide a person with practical experience. It is
often the case that internships are offered to people who have
already completed a diploma or degree and are now seeking
employment. As such, internships are generally considered
"work" for the purposes of the ESA, and must be
paid in accordance with the minimum standards as set out therein,
including hours of work, minimum wage, overtime pay, vacation pay,
The Narrow Exceptions
Unpaid internships are impermissible in British Columbia unless
the internship falls under one of the following narrowly construed
exemptions listed in the Employment Standards
Many employment standards, including minimum wage, hours
of work, overtime, rest periods, etc. do not apply to
professionals, or people training to be professionals, in
designated fields such as doctors, lawyers, nurses, engineers, and
Students who are enrolled at a secondary school who are engaged
to work at the secondary in which they are enrolled, in a work
study, work experience, or occupational study class, are excluded
from the ESA.
Unlike in other jurisdictions, there is no "training
wage" in British Columbia. For reference, the current minimum
wage in British Columbia $10.25/hour.
Employers who offer internships that are not approved by an
educational institution should review their programs and practices
to ensure they are meeting their legal obligations under the
ESA. While there is no harm in using the word
"intern" or "internship" to describe a
temporary, entry level position in such situations, employers
should be cognizant of the fact that such labels are meaningless
from a legal prospective and such interns are likely entitled to
the same ESA protections as the employer's other
Further, even where an internship is approved by an educational
institution, employers should ensure that the arrangement is
properly papered between the employer, the educational institution,
and the intern to cover off respective obligations, including who
will be providing Workplace Safety Insurance, if applicable.
As a final note, the regulations regarding internships vary
significantly from province to province. As such, if you have
operations in other provinces, please see our other articles in our
"Intern(al) Affairs" series for a primer on these
regulations in other jurisdictions.
The foregoing provides only an overview and does not constitute
legal advice. Readers are cautioned against making any decisions
based on this material alone. Rather, specific legal advice should
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