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Hiring Interns: Great resource but not free

Interns are a great resource for a company. They are generally thirsty for knowledge, willing to work hard to prove themselves, and oh yes, willing to work for cheap or even nothing. At least I was when I was in law school. Although the intern might be willing to work for nothing that doesn’t mean a “for profit” business doesn’t have to pay him or her.

In the state of Washington all employees are subject to the minimum wage unless excluded by statute. RCW 49.46.010 excludes certain volunteers as “employees”. The applicable statutes related to interns are RCW 49.46.010(5)(d) and (e). Those sections read as follows:

RCW 49.46.010(d)

Any individual engaged in the activities of an educational, charitable, religious, state or local governmental body or agency, or nonprofit organization where the employer-employee relationship does not in fact exist or where the services are rendered to such organizations gratuitously.

RCW 49.46.010(e)

Any individual employed full time by any state or local governmental body or agency who provides voluntary services but only with regard to the provision of the voluntary services.

The Department of Labor and Industries has also enacted an official policy statementinterpreting the above. Most applicable is the section that reads:

DOL Policy

Volunteers are not allowed in a “for-profit” business. Any individual, partnership, association, corporation, business trust, or any person or group of persons acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer, who permits any individual to work, is subject to the provisions of the MWA.

In sum, even if the intern is willing to work free the “for profit” business must pay the intern. But come on, interns are usually smart, enthusiastic, and willing to do whatever is needed to get experience. In my mind an employee like that is worth at least $8.55 per hour.

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