The Law of Unpaid Internships in Canada.

AuthorCzaikowski, Carter

For well over 100 years, students in industrial-era trade apprenticeships and professions have learned by 'watching and doing' under the supervision of the master craftsman. Historically, there was little or no pay or benefits associated with these tutelages. They were viewed as voluntary educational experiences which benefited the apprentice and burdened the senior craftsman.

Most trades and professions in Canada still operate today under this model of "shadowing" and learning skills by practising them under the guidance of a master. For Alberta trades, by way of example, see the Apprenticeship and Industry Training Act.

Apprenticeships and training programs that must be completed to earn full qualification have given rise to the modern internship. Not all internships are the same, but they usually involve learning about skills or business under the direction of proficient mentors.

The Modern Unregulated Internship

In recent decades, enterprising students, graduates and others - in the belief that industry contacts and practical experience enhance their employability - volunteer to work as unpaid (or under-paid) interns in private and public sector organizations. These are usually short (less than one year) term positions. The experience varies considerably in each internship. But since it is not a regulated academic requirement for any formal program, some of the 'work experience' will be routine work that regular employers at the organization can perform.

Organizations are willing to accept interns for several reasons:

* They want to assist them by giving them an inside view of their industry and business.

* They incur some overhead cost in hosting the intern, but they receive some service in return.

* Each side is able to assess the other at low cost if a regular job opens up.

Since such an internship is a voluntary relationship between two consensual parties, why must the law intervene? Some Canadian legislators assume these unpaid internships are exploitative of young, inexperienced workers. Legislators stipulate minimum wages, holidays, hours between shifts and many other minimum employment standards. In the same way, they have set rules across the country to govern when internships must be converted into regular paid jobs. This article outlines the regulation of internships in Canada under employment standards legislation.

Each province and territory has employment standards legislation that applies to internships without actually using the word "internship".

Professional Exemption

British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia exempt professional interns from employment standards legislation. Those training in the professions of law, accounting, medicine, engineering, dentistry and architecture are usually covered by some employment standards (such as minimum wage) but exempt from other standards like hours of work, statutory holidays and overtime. These trainees are not treated in law as regular employees. Professional statutes also regulate these...

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