Monday, June 29, 2015

I've looked at jobs from both sides now: pay summer hire

The summer months have finally arrived. No more school, plenty of sunshine and thousands of young people looking to earn a few dollars and maybe get some job experience for their resumes.

In years past, it was often as easy as knocking on a door and asking if the homeowner wanted their grass cut. Today, professional landscaping firms have made that impossible for vacationing students.

Picking up a newspaper route is unlikely too. Not many newspapers are published every day, and many are delivered in the middle of the night.

For young adults who have been away at college, the days of working in the factory all summer to earn enough for next fall’s tuition are also gone forever.

Clearly, it’s extremely difficult for young persons to make a few dollars in the summer. Finding a meaningful summer job that lets you save even a few dollars can be a challenge in this day and age.

But have you ever considered the other side of the coin? Hiring someone for the summer can be a bit difficult as well.

Until a few years ago I had never heard of an unpaid internship. Then suddenly, it seemed like scores of students were vying for the same internship. In years past, my firm hired young people for the summer, and yes, we paid them.

Recently, a Bloomfield Hills based attorney I know, John Below, brought the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to my attention. It made me realize that being a nice person and providing a young student an opportunity is more complex and regulated than I imagined.

There appears to be a fine line between internship and “employment” in the for-profit or private sector of the working world. According to the FLSA, anyone who is employed must be compensated. The Department of Labor, however, views private sector interns as employees. So in reality, there’s no such thing as an intern working simply to gain experience and doing so without any kind of wages.

Ah, but things are different in the public sector. It appears the public sector can offer unpaid internships that provide young persons experience to put on their resumes without putting a penny in their pockets. Not so in the for-profit world.

But, what if you were to hire someone as a trainee instead of an intern? Does that change things? Well, there does appear to be a fine line between an intern and a trainee. A line so fine that it would take several columns to explain.

Evidently there are special provisions for trainees. But several cases have actually gone to court to determine if a trainee is an intern or vice-versa. As I said, it’s complicated.

Summer interns must — and should — be paid, because legally, they are employees. And while it appears you can legally take on a trainee just for the experience and without pay, you might be taking a risk.

The lines are blurred and the regulators are watching. That’s why employers need to classify their workforce properly. I strongly recommend you seek an attorney’s advice to make sure you’re doing the right thing.

Being big hearted is nice, but it’s equally important to be smart when adding summer help. You can be both by paying whomever you hire for the summer.

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