Connecticut employers need to be aware of two significant changes in the law surrounding internships.
The first is a new state statute including unpaid interns in the protections afforded to employees with respect to discrimination and harassment. This law goes into effect on October 1, 2015. Employers should update their handbooks and training materials to ensure that interns receive the same protections as employees with respect to discrimination and harassment. They should also ensure that internship opportunities are not advertised in a manner that would discriminate against members of protected classes. (Last year, the New York City Council made a similar amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law.)
The second change is the recent Second Circuit decision in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures. This decision makes it easier for for-profit employers to meet the requirements for an intern to be unpaid. The U.S. Department of Labor has taken the position that an intern may only be unpaid when all parts of a six-part test are met. The Second Circuit held that this test should be replaced with a more flexible “primary beneficiary test” to assess whether the intern or the employer is the primary beneficiary of the relationship. The Second Circuit then provided a list of seven non-exhaustive considerations that should be applied by “weighing and balancing all of the circumstances.” In other words, the test provides some guidelines, but it is not necessary for all of the factors to be met in order for an intern to be unpaid and courts may consider other relevant evidence as appropriate. The factors are:
- The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
- The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands‐on training provided by educational institutions.
- The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
- The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
- The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
- The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
- The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.
The Second Circuit’s decision covers New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. Employers in other jurisdictions are subject to decisions within their jurisdictions and/or the Department of Labor’s six-part test. Also, until the Second Circuit’s factors are used in more decisions allowing for some level of predictability of outcome, employers should take a conservative approach when determining whether interns must be paid. If in doubt, paying the intern at least minimum wage and complying with all applicable employment laws is the safest course of action.
While employers must still remain wary about hiring unpaid interns, the Second Circuit decision enhances the options available to employers who desire to use interns. The new Connecticut statute, while creating a new avenue of liability for employers, is unlikely to have a significant impact on employers’ practices. Our team of labor and employment attorneys can assist you in reviewing these issues to ensure your use of interns is legal.