Interns are often employed by companies to provide an extra set of hands that help accomplish goals or finish projects. Sometimes, students also enrol in an internship program as one of the requirements to complete their graduation. In this case, HR practitioners might have legal questions about how to hire an intern, especially paid and unpaid internship – and whether or not interns are covered under the Employment Act.
Before we discuss the labour law, HR should understand the true meaning of paid and unpaid internship. Both internship types require interns to work as professionals within an industry. In a paid internship, the interns are required to perform work and have work arrangements similar to that of a regular employee in an organisation. Yet, at the beginning of recruiting interns, HR should acknowledge the interns with the agreement of the program such as how much they will be paid.
Meanwhile, when you do an unpaid internship, the program should benefit interns more. Therefore, unpaid internship arrangement cannot be faulted on legal grounds IF both employer and intern agree to the terms of agreement, said Eugene Tan. Unpaid internship program should follow the following points.
Further, if interns acknowledge that the bargaining power is unequal, they can always refuse the program on the outset if he/she is not happy with the terms offered by the employer.
Moreover, Tan encouraged companies not to view interns as free or cheap labour but to provide the best training and exposure for the interns as a means of attracting and retaining talent. Otherwise, organisations that do not adhere to these laws will be subject to fines and penalties.
Ministry of Manpower Singapore as of May 31, 2013, stated that interns are protected under the Employment Act. That being said, employer should accord statutory benefits prescribed under the law to intern if he/she is performing and has work arrangements similar to a regular employee (paid internship program). The labour laws that protect paid internship include hours of work, overtime, rest days, annual leave, and sick leave.
Hours of work – Employees (interns) should not be required to work for more than 8 hours in one day or more than 44 hours in a week.
Overtime – If interns are required to work overtime, they should be consent to do so and subject to the limit of 12 hours per day and totalling 72 hours per month. Under the Act, an employer must pay the extra hours of work or for working on his rest day or public holiday. In addition, the rate for overtime work should be no less than one and a half times an intern’s hourly basic rate of pay.
Rest day – Employer must grant the intern one rest day which is not paid in a week. The rest day could be on Sunday or any other day.
Annual leave – Interns are entitled to Annual Leave (prorated) if he/she has worked for at least 3 months.
Sick leave – Interns covered by the Employment Act are entitled to paid sick leave (prorated), including medical leave issued by a dentist if: 1) intern has served employer for at least three months, 2) intern has informed or attempted to inform employer of his/her absence within 48 hours, otherwise, intern will be deemed to be absent from work without permission or reasonable excuse, 3) Sick leave is certified by the company’s doctor, or by a government doctor.
Likewise, when internships are the result of partnerships between employers and universities (unpaid and/or paid program), there should be an agreement between both parties when students are injured when working their capacity as interns. While workers’ compensation laws do vary between states, one point is consistent: worker’s compensation is intended to protect employees. Thus, the distinction between interns and employees under Fair Labour Standard Act is critical.
In conclusion, If interns do not meet the criteria of an unpaid intern, they are paid employees and covered by worker’s compensation for on-the-job injuries. If the internship is a truly educational experience, on-the-job injuries could be the responsibility of the school or university sponsoring the program.
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