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 Alberta's Employment Standards Code (the
"Code"), 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.
Unpaid internships are impermissible in Alberta unless the
internship falls under one of the three narrowly construed
exemptions listed in the regulations to the Code:
Internships that are part of a formal course of training
approved by the Director of Employment Standards;
Internships that are part of an off-campus education program
approved by a school district's board of trustees; and
Internships that are part of a work experience program approved
by the Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education or the
Minister of Human Services.
"Interns" that do not fall within these narrow
exceptions are entitled to the payment of minimum wage under the
Code. Other minimum employment standards, including hours of work,
overtime pay, vacation pay, etc., are also applicable.
The mere fact that a worker is called an "intern" is
irrelevant to the determination of whether that worker is entitled
to the protections of the Code. As the exemptions above clearly
indicate, employers cannot unilaterally designate an individual as
an unpaid intern. The prior approval of the Director, a school
board, or a Minister is a mandatory prerequisite to any such
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 accountants. Since the
Code does not normally apply to such professionals, the Code also
does not apply to such professionals when they are receiving
training in their designated field.
Employers who offer internship programs that are not approved by
the Director, a school district, or the appropriate Minister should
review their programs and practices to ensure they are meeting
their legal obligations under the Code. 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 Code protections as the employer's other
Further, even where an internship is approved, employers should
ensure that the arrangement is properly papered between the
employer, the approving body, 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 be obtained.
Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
A former teacher at Bodwell High School has learned a valuable lesson from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal— it is not discriminatory for an employer to offer child-related benefits to only employees with children.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).