What is an Unpaid Internship?
Unpaid internships in Ontario are illegal unless they fall under 3 main categories of the Ontario’s Employment Standards Act
Unpaid internships provide opportunities for experience, networking, and exposure to the field of interest of a student.
Unpaid internships cab hinder youth in making bill payments, as they dedicate less time to working at their part time jobs, and adequate time at their internship.
An internship is a form of work where an individual gains valuable work experience, whether it be through an accredited school program, or on the individual’s own accord. An unpaid internship is when the individual is not paid with monetary funds, they are paid through experience, networking, and exposure to the fields they are pursuing a career in.
There are certain laws that outline whether an intern’s work is considered an internship or if it should be considered a job, in which case they must be paid at least Canada’s current minimum wage per hour threshold.
Unpaid internships in Ontario are illegal unless they fall under 3 main categories of the Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA).
Internship is part of an approved secondary school program
Internship provides training for certain professions
The intern is considered a “trainee” and meets the following 6 conditions:
Training is similar to those that would be acquired at a professional school
Training is for the benefit of the individual intern
Person providing training receives little to no benefit from trainee’s work
The intern does not displace other employees from a job
The intern is not accorded a right to become an employee after the internship is complete
The intern is advised that they will not be given any form of monetary payment
There is no Federal of Provincial agency that tracks the presence of interns. Neither Statistics Canada nor Human Resources and Skills Development Canada keep data on interns in Canada. A team of students from University of Victoria completed an extensive amount of research and derived that there was approximately 300,000 internships in Canada and approximately 100,000 that are not in the books in the year 2013.
There are two side to this story. The first is the side of the intern. An intern can gain valuable (non-monetary) benefits within their time at an establishment. This includes: work experience, possible course credit, practical experience, networking with professionals, development of new skills and refinement of others, and gaining confidence in their abilities. At the same time, many students have rent, bills, tuition payments, and other expenses that they may have to meet. In this case, they could lose hours at their part time job in which to pay the bills in order to complete hours at their internship.
The Intern Host
The other side of the story is the views of the internship host. The internship host gains benefits in hosting intern as they become a mentor, sharing their experience, thoughts, and tips to the students. They also has a variety of benefits including, interns adding productivity to the establishment, bringing energy and fresh ideas, and assisting employees with analytic, writing, and language skills in reports. However, it’s not always as simple as just having an extra person around to help with work. Internship hosts have to provide space and equipment for the intern, as well as put time towards mentoring and working with the intern and they may not have the money internally to pay the intern.
Know the Rules
It is important for Toronto companies and businesses to understand the rules of an internship, as outlined under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, as they have the obligation to compensate the intern if their work does not fit in the categories outlined above. The same goes for the Toronto youth who are seeking and currently completing a placement.
Most youth who complete an internship through a post-secondary institution are given guidelines to follow. However, those interns who look for an internship outside of a school can be blind to the fact that they are completing work as an employee but are not being compensated as one. It's important to know the facts and rules around internships in Ontario.
Marco Gerolini was born and raised in the City of Mississauga, living in the suburbs for his whole life. He is currently in his fourth year at Ryerson University studying Urban and Regional Planning. He is passionate about park planning, public spaces, environmental issues, and civic engagement. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.