As young Canadians fan out across workplaces this summer to get experience as interns, employers would do well to take stock of the myriad of employment laws and regulations governing internships.

Not being careful around the rules can result in future legal headaches, says Daniel Chodos, a partner at Whitten & Lublin in Toronto. “Employers are taking a calculated risk, and it’s in everyone’s best interest that they know what their obligations are,” he says. “There’s a serious risk that the Ministry of Labour investigates and audits your workplace.”

First, unpaid internships are illegal unless they meet specific exemptions determined by each province. Interns who don’t fall under the exemptions are entitled to earn minimum wage.

Read: The right way to use summer interns

Former unpaid interns have the right to file employment standards complaints after their internships if they believe should have been paid for their work, according to Claire Seaborn, founder of the Canadian Intern Association. The time period in which interns can file complaints varies across the country, although most provinces accept them from six months to a year after the internship ends, according to the Canadian Intern Association’s intern rights guide.

In 2013, two former interns filed complaints against Bell Mobility, alleging they should have been paid for their internships because they were more akin to entry-level jobs than training programs, according to a CBC article.

In addition to ensuring they follow the rules around wages, employers should prioritize the health and safety of interns to avoid future liabilities, says Andrew Langille, co-ordinating staff lawyer for Toronto East Employment Law Services. “Companies need to be careful when it comes to potential workplace injuries.”

While it’s rare for extreme injuries or deaths to occur during internships, it’s not an impossibility, adds Langille.

Read: My Take: Why employers should invest in a good internship program

L’Oréal Canada, which sees about 60 interns go through its program each year, provides health and safety training, particularly for those who work at its production plant. “They have a whole day of training on [the] security of how to walk around within the plant, what are the security measures, what to wear, what not to wear,” says Maude Sanfaçon, talent acquisition counsellor at the company in Montreal.

According to the Canadian Intern Association, most provinces have health and safety laws that cover interns and co-op students in regards to workplace hazards. However, the degree to which the legislation protects companies from litigation varies according to the circumstances, and there are always potential loopholes that might hold employers liable, says Chodos.

Given the potential liabilities, Chodos advises employers interested in starting an internship program to pause and consider the many rules.

“At the end of the day, the responsibility falls with the employer,” says Langille. “Being ignorant about the rules around workplace law is not going to get them very far.”

Read: Desjardins, KPMG and Rogers among top employers for young people

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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