Who Benefits: Intern Or Company?
Although courts will use these factors to analyze a worker’s status, they don’t necessarily weigh all them equally. In fact, judges will often find that the most important criterion for determining whether someone is subject to the FLSA involves which party enjoys the primary benefit from the internship.
Essentially, if the intern benefits primarily from the arrangement, she will be considered a volunteer, rather than a paid employee. However, if the company is the primary beneficiary of the intern’s work experience, this person will be considered an employee who must be paid at least the minimum wage.
In one case involving a company’s use of trainees, McLaughlin v. Ensley, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the owner of a snack foods distribution business had to pay trainees for route jobs. Before being formally hired for such a job, trainees were required to participate in what was usually five days of exposure to the tasks they would be expected to perform. They traveled an ordinary route with an experienced route man, loaded and unloaded the delivery truck, received instruction on how to drive the truck, restocked stores with the employer’s product, were introduced to retailers, learned basic maintenance on snack food vending machines and occasionally helped prepare orders of goods with financial exchanges. However, the employer did not pay the trainees during their training week.
In determining whether this practice was legal, the Fourth Circuit explained that the key question involved whether the employer or the trainees received the principal benefit from the orientation. The court held that the employer enjoyed a greater advantage than the trainees because they were, in fact helping the company distribute snack foods. The skills they learned in training were either so specific to the job or so general that they had practically no transferable usefulness. As a result, the appeals court ruled that the trainees who participated in the orientation program were entitled to receive minimum wages.
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