Ontario Ministry of Labour Cracks Down on Unpaid Internships
The Ministry of Labour recently reprimanded two high profile magazines for their unpaid internship programs. As a result of inspections in December, the Ministry issued compliance orders for violations of several standards at Toronto Life and The Walrus, including failing to pay minimum wage. In response, the magazines have opted to eliminate their internship programs, stating that they cannot afford to pay their interns in accordance with the Employment Standards Act (the “ESA”). At least three other publications have reportedly followed suit, letting go of their unpaid interns last week.
Despite their prevalent use in many sectors, unpaid internships are often not in compliance with provincial employment standards legislation. In both Ontario and British Columbia, for example, simply giving a worker the title of “intern” does not shield the employer from obligation to pay minimum wage and comply with other employment standards minimums. Generally, if a person performs work and is not in business for him or herself, the person is considered an “employee” and is therefore entitled to certain statutory protections.
On the other hand, many internships – such as those affiliated with college and university programs, for example – will not typically run afoul of minimum employment standards. The narrow exception is intended to encourage employers to provide college or university students with practical training to complement classroom learning.
In Ontario, the exemption only applies where an intern is receiving training in skills that are used by the employer’s employees, and all of the following conditions are met:
The law in Ontario may be on the verge of change, however. Last month, Bill 170, a private member’s bill known as the Greater Protection for Interns and Vulnerable Workers Act, was introduced. If passed, this Bill would effectively deem an intern an “employee” for the purpose of certain sections of the ESA, including minimum wage, hours of work and vacation entitlements.
Thus far, the Ministry’s crackdown on unlawful unpaid internships has been limited to magazines and other media outlets, but other sectors will soon face similar scrutiny, as the Ministry is planning an enforcement blitz focused specifically on internships across a variety of sectors.
For now, all employers should ensure that their internship programs either meet the strict criteria as set out in the applicable employment standards legislation, or ensure interns are provided with the same minimum rights and benefits as other employees.
If you have any questions about the employment of unpaid interns, or any other questions relating to workplace law, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer.
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