Federally regulated employer obligations towards interns and student interns

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An intern or student intern is a person who is not an employee but who performs activities for an employer for the primary purpose of gaining knowledge or experience.

An intern is treated the same way as employees for the purposes of Part III of the Canada Labour Code (Code).

A student intern is someone participating in an internship to fulfill educational program requirements.

Obligations you have towards your interns

When hiring interns, you must:

  • provide them with a written employment statement
  • pay them at least minimum wage
  • investigate and report any serious accident involving them
  • provide them with full labour standards protections and occupational health and safety protections
  • supply them with required safety materials, equipment and clothing, as well as training on how to use it
  • give them instructions and training on how to perform their job safely
  • supervise them to ensure their safety
  • obtain and keep all of the same written records that are required to be kept for employees for at least 36 months after the date the internship ends

Obligations you have towards your student interns

In this section:

As an employer, you must keep records for at least 36 months after the student internship ends.

You must also provide your student interns with occupational health and safety protections and the following labour standards protections.

Note: not all labour standards in Part III of the Canada Labour Code apply to student interns. For example, student interns may be unpaid.

Standard hours of work

The standard hours of work for student interns are the same as the standard hours of work for employees in federally regulated industries or workplaces. However, because student interns are not compensated with overtime pay, they cannot exceed the standard hours of work when performing activities for an employer.

Modified work schedule

With your student intern’s approval, you may establish a work schedule that exceeds the standard hours of work. Modified work schedules must not exceed 40 hours per week averaged over a period of 2 weeks or more.

Maximum hours of work for an individual who is both a paid employee and an unpaid student intern with the same employer

Student interns may undertake both an unpaid internship and paid employment with the same employer. However, the student intern’s total hours for both positions must not exceed 10 hours per day or 48 hours per week. If the student intern approves a modified work schedule, their hours may exceed 48 hours per week; however, the student intern’s work schedule must not exceed an average of 48 hours per week over a period of 2 or more weeks.

Breaks and rest periods

You must provide student interns with the following:

  • an unpaid 30-minute break during every 5 consecutive hours of work
    • you must grant this break in one period, you cannot split it
  • unpaid breaks for medical reasons
    • if you request it in writing, the student intern must provide you with a certificate, issued by a health care practitioner. This certificate must state the required duration and frequency of the breaks, as well as the start and end dates of the period during which breaks needed for medical reasons are to be taken
  • unpaid breaks necessary to nurse or express milk
  • rest periods of at least 8 hours between shifts

Shift changes and notice of work schedules

You must inform your student intern(s) in writing at least 24 hours before you make a change to their scheduled shifts. This also applies if you change a period during which you are to be on standby or on-call.

You are also responsible for providing them with their schedule in writing at least 96 hours before the start of their first shift. The new schedule must also include any standby or on-call periods. Student interns have the right to refuse any shift that starts less than 96 hours after the schedule is provided to them.

Employees under 18 years of age

Student interns under 18 years of age may only perform activities in the workplace if they meet the following conditions:

General holidays

You should provide student interns with time off for 10 general holidays per year. You cannot require student interns to perform activities on these days. The only exception is if you both agree to substitute a general holiday with another day.

Protected leaves of absence and maternity-related reassignment

A student intern who is pregnant or nursing has the right to make a request that you modify their activities if they provide a certificate from a health care practitioner stating her duties cause a risk to her health or that of the foetus or child. You must either accept to modify her activities or else provide reason in writing explaining why this is not reasonably practicable.

The student intern is entitled to leave while awaiting your response. For a student intern, unlike for an employee, you are not required to provide a leave of absence if:

  • modifying their activities is not possible, or
  • if a health care practitioner determines that the student intern is unable to continue activities because of the pregnancy or nursing

You are required to provide student interns, with the following leaves of absence

Student interns are not entitled to pay while on leave.

Complaints related to reprisals

If a student intern exercised their rights under Part III of the Code, you cannot:

  • end the internship
  • suspend them
  • lay them off
  • demote them
  • give them financial or other penalties
  • refuse to provide them with training or promotion
  • take any other disciplinary actions against them, or
  • threaten to take any such action because the student intern did any of the following:
    • made a complaint to the Labour Program
    • provided information or assistance to the Labour Program
    • provided information to an adjudicator or a member of the Canada Industrial Relations Board
    • testified in a proceeding or inquiry related to labour standards issues
    • became pregnant, or
    • exercised any leave of absence or any other labour standards protection that applies to student interns

Genetic testing

You cannot penalize or threaten to penalize student interns in any way:

  • because they refused to undergo a genetic test
  • because they refused to disclose the results of a genetic test
  • based on the results of a genetic test

Compensating student interns

As an employer, you are not required to pay your student interns, and the activities they perform for you are not considered to be work. The primary purpose of an internship must be for the intern to gain knowledge and experience.

On a voluntary basis, you may give money to student interns if it is not connected to the activities they perform. This could include a:

  • stipend
  • monthly allowance, or
  • reimbursement for expenses

Note: if you pay wages (for example, remuneration for work performed, such as an amount for each hour spent by an intern in the workplace), then the person might be considered an employee instead of a student intern. As an employee, the person would have to be paid at least the minimum wage and receive all other labour standards entitlements.

Misclassifying interns and student interns

As an employer, you are prohibited from treating an employee as if they were not your employee. A person who is paid remuneration by you is presumed to be your employee unless you prove the contrary.

The following are some examples of situations in which an employee may be misclassified:

  • an intern or employee is misclassified as a student intern
  • an incorporated driver who meets the criteria to be an employee is misclassified as a self-employed/independent worker
  • employees who have shares in a business are misclassified as an associate if they do not have any control over:
    • ownership, or
    • business operations

Any employer who misclassifies an employee is contravening the Code. You may be subject to enforcement action by the Labour Program, up to and including an administrative monetary penalty (AMP) or prosecution.

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