The Ontario Ministry of Labour ("MOL") recently announced that it is undertaking an
enforcement blitz focusing on unpaid internships. Between now and
December 31, 2015, employment standards officers from the MOL will
be visiting workplaces that have internship programs to ensure
compliance with the Employment Standards Act, 2000
("ESA" or "the Act").
In particular, the officers will be assessing whether interns
are, in fact, "employees" under the ESA. While
internships can provide valuable experience to the intern and
valuable work to the employer, if an intern is actually an
"employee" under the ESA, then the employer must
pay that person at least the minimum wage as well as other
associated entitlements under the Act.
Not all interns will qualify as "employees" under the
ESA. The Act contains various exemptions that may permit a
particular worker to occupy an unpaid internship. For example, the
ESA's provisions do not apply to a high school student
who is part of a school board-authorized work experience program.
However, in the absence of an exemption, an employer will not be
able to avoid its obligations under the ESA simply by
labelling a position as an "unpaid internship."
If employment standards officers dispatched during the blitz
find that interns ought to be paid, they will take enforcement
action including issuing orders for an employer to pay wages.
Written with the support of Samantha Cass, articling
Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP
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