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Unpaid Internships

A person hired as an unpaid "intern" must be a student enrolled in an accredited academic program receiving academic credit for the internship or be in a program approved by a public agency to provide training. Otherwise, an employer must pay at least minimum wage for all hours worked. Many employers want to establish their own internship programs to help high school and college students or non-students who may be new to the employer's business or industry. These types of internships, however, do not qualify as exempt under the state's minimum wage and overtime laws, and the interns in these programs must be paid for all hours worked in accordance with the wage-and-hour requirements applicable to all employers.

The state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), which enforces wage-and-hour laws in California, has developed the following guidelines for student intern programs. In order to be classified as an unpaid internship, the program or training must meet the following criteria:

  • The training must be part of an established course of an accredited school or of an institution approved by a public agency to provide training for licensure, or to qualify for a skilled vocation or profession.
  • The program may not be for the benefit of any one employer. A regular employee may not be displaced by the intern or trainee.
  • The training must be supervised by the school or a disinterested agency.

Any training program or internship that does not satisfy the above criteria must pay the intern or trainee minimum wage and overtime, as applicable.

Note: If a student is receiving "on-the-job training" to become a regular employee, the student is considered to be an employee of the employer, and not an unpaid intern.


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