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Navigating Internships, Practicum Students, and Volunteers: Understanding Employment Law Implications

As organizations increasingly offer opportunities for internships, practicum students, and volunteers, it is essential to understand the employment law implications of these roles. The distinction between these categories and regular employees is crucial, as it determines whether an individual falls under the Employment Standards Act and the associated minimum wage requirements. This article provides insights into the legal aspects of engaging interns, practicum students, and volunteers, helping organizations ensure compliance with employment law.

Determining Employee Status

From an employment law standpoint, the Court examines the duties performed rather than the title or identification of the individual (e.g., intern, practicum student, volunteer). If the duties performed are those typically carried out by employees or duties that can reasonably expect to be compensated, the individual is considered to be performing “work” and must be paid accordingly.

Guidelines for Unpaid Internships, Practicum Students, and Volunteers

To minimize the likelihood of unpaid interns or volunteers being deemed employees, organizations should adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Ensure that individuals are aware of their role as unpaid interns or volunteers, with no expectation of payment for services rendered.
  • Provide options relating to the type or nature of work to be performed, rather than directing them to perform specific tasks.
  • Allow flexibility in the hours during which they will provide services, including how many total hours of service will be provided on any given day or week.
  • Permit them to leave the work site at any time (with notice to the supervising manager).
  • Avoid assigning too much responsibility for tasks that are important to the organization’s operations or work that is too similar to work performed by paid employees.
  • Refrain from promises of employment as a result of the volunteer or intern position.

If these guidelines cannot be followed, it may be best to engage individuals as temporary, part-time employees.

Paying Interns and Practicum Students

If an organization decides to pay interns or practicum students who perform work typically done by employees, the compensation should be at least the minimum wage. Organizations should also be aware of potential liabilities for Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Employment Insurance (EI) contributions, as well as vacation pay (usually 4%).

Co-op Students

Co-op students are generally considered employees and should be paid according to the applicable Employment Standards.

Volunteering Outside of School Programs

Students who are not participating in internships through their school or program but wish to volunteer as interns with an organization should not perform work typically done by employees. Otherwise, they may be considered employees under employment law.

Understanding the employment law implications of engaging interns, practicum students, and volunteers is crucial for organizations to ensure compliance and avoid potential legal issues. By adhering to the guidelines provided and properly distinguishing between employee and non-employee roles, organizations can offer valuable learning experiences while remaining in compliance with the law.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Organizations should consult with their legal counsel to ensure compliance with employment laws and regulations.


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Melissa has 8+ years of combined Commercial, Business and Contract Law experience as In-House Counsel in manufacturing, health, real estate development, and broadcast communication industries. She is instrumental in developing strategies to minimize legal risk and ensure regulatory compliance.

She has 6+ years of Human Resources Management experience and a Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR) designation. Her practice includes Family Law, Civil Litigation, Wills & Estates and Real Estate & Conveyancing.

For fun, she visits ancient sites and ruins and belts out popular Broadway tunes.

northam law corporation

Northam Law is a boutique law firm offering advisory services in Real Estate Law and Conveyancing, Business Law, and Human Resources. Our practice areas also include Wills & Estates and Family Law. Notarization services are also available.

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