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What Limitations Are There for Hiring Interns?

Written by Angela Finding

Most businesses at least consider hiring interns at some point. However, leaders of small- to mid-sized companies sometimes feel intimidated by the perceived degree of complexity in bringing interns on board. Internships are legally distinct from conventional employment, and thus represent an entirely different set of considerations.

While there are some limitations in how and why you can hire interns, they aren’t nearly as complicated as they seem on the surface. Let’s take a look at what they are.


Most businesses falsely assume that there are only certain times that you can hire interns, as many internships align with college semester schedules. It’s true that many college students seek internships to last during fall or spring semester (or over the summer), but that doesn’t mean you can’t offer an internship year-round—it just means you might see higher numbers of applicants during certain periods.


As you’re likely aware, interns may be paid or unpaid. However, there are stricter regulations about how unpaid interns can be hired and used within your business. With paid interns, all laws that apply to normal employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) apply—which includes minimum wage and overtime requirements.


Speaking generally, paid interns may be treated as employees. However, the U.S. Department of Labor mandates that unpaid interns must be hired for specific reasons; to put it simply, unpaid interns must be there to learn new skills and gain meaningful experience, and must not take over the roles of a paid position. As long as you’re benefitting the intern (and not turning them into an errand-runner or a “free” employee), you’ll be fine here.  However, it is recommended to pay interns.


There are also no legal requirements when it comes to the duration of an internship; there are no expirations and no minimums that you’ll need to consider, and you can end the internship at any time. However, some colleges do require a minimum number of hours over the course of a semester for the internship to count as college credit, so make sure to ask your candidates if they have any requirements. Additionally, with paid or unpaid interns, you are under no obligation to make a job offer at the end of the internship.

As you can see, there’s ample flexibility in hiring interns. There are some laws to ensure interns are treated fairly, but none that pose significant obstacles for compliance.

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