Unpaid Internships: What can be legally promised by an employer to an aspiring intern?

Unpaid Internships: What can be legally promised by an employer to an aspiring intern?

Unpaid internships have become a common way for students or newly graduated students to get their foot in the door in the industry of their choice, especially if their experience is minimal. There is a possibility to meet a mentor and make connections that can be utilized for the rest of their professional career.

Choosing to participate in an unpaid internship as a student or a newly graduated student can be a difficult decision to make. Many current or previous students have student loans to pay off, bills, and a life they want to afford without anxiety. Many people in this demographic want certain promises that allow them to foresee a value exchange and know that eventually there will be cheques rolling in. Unfortunately, unpaid internships cannot guarantee as much as some people think they can. While it can be a good opportunity for gaining experience and connections in an industry, the benefits remain undetermined. The unknown factors involved in unpaid internships are what many people find hard to accept, especially when they are putting many hours into a job.

The Legal Definition of an Unpaid Internship

Legally, the Employment Standards Act, 2000 outlines the limitations of an unpaid internship that must be met by the employer and understood by the intern when starting this new position.

The legal definition of an unpaid internship in Canada according to the ESA contains the following:

  • Unpaid internships must involve work in training or skilled trades.
  • Unpaid internships must strictly be exactly that, unpaid. If the employer decides to label the intern “unpaid” they are legally prohibited from supplying the intern with any compensation.
  • An employer cannot promise the unpaid intern with a paid position after their term is over, and an unpaid intern should not expect that to be the case. It is illegal to promise an unpaid intern that they will eventually receive a paid position in the company.
  • An unpaid intern cannot take an employee’s position away from them. The unpaid intern cannot do the job of a paid employee because the intern is not compensated for this job and the employee should not worry about losing their position. The employer cannot hire an intern to complete work duties, that are normally paid positions, for free.

As an aspiring intern or professional, you should be aware of what job you are accepting legally. Even if it is the start of your work experience in this field, that doesn’t exclude you from receiving advice involving your career. Accepting an unpaid internship could be the beginning of your future career, and although it is not a permanent position, it is still important to know how your value is protected.

If you have any questions involving unpaid internships and what can be legally promised, please contact KCY at LAW by filling in an online consultation request or contact us by phone at 905-639-0999 to book your consultation today.