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 student.

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