The Seattle Times printed an interesting article on the risks of hiring unpaid interns for businesses. It discussed and focused on the Federal Labor Standard Act’s 6 pronged test used to determine whether hiring the intern as an unpaid worker is legal. The FLSA criteria are as follows:
1. It must be an educational experience, the equivalent of vocational school.
2. It must primarily benefit the trainee.
3. The intern cannot do work that would otherwise be done by a paid employee, and must work under the close supervision of a manager.
4. The employer cannot profit from the intern’s work.
5. The employer must not promise upfront a paid job at the conclusion of the internship. It’s OK to offer a job once the internship ends.
6. The intern and employer must agree if no wages are to be paid. It’s best to put this understanding in writing, and have both parties sign the paper.

Importantly, though, it did not address the requirements imposed by Washington State that further limit a business’s ability to hire an unpaid worker. In Washington, for-profit businesses cannot have volunteers as they are working in the interest of the employer in a profit-making capacity. Under RCW 49.46, “employees” are subject to minimum wage requirements. RCW 49.46.010 provides a number of exceptions to the definition of “employee” such as exempt “white collar” employees and volunteers in educational, charitable, religious, state or local governmental body or agency or non-profit organizations. Unpaid interns or volunteers in for-profit businesses are not exempt under the statute and, therefore, you must abide by the minimum wage laws.

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