We, at PLU, anticipate that the internships our students engage in hold a professional level of responsibility that contribute to the productivity and value of the organization. Any student working 18 or more hours per week should be contributing significantly after the initial orientation. Students should be paid whatever the normal wage would be to get the job done. There are “creative” ways to pay students, with “perks” such as free parking, bus passes, fitness center membership, tuition reimbursement for internship course credits, offers to pay for industry certification courses, etc. While these are attractive to students, it does not replace the motivation and respect of a regular wage.
If the student is enhancing your productivity, as he or she should be, there should be some compensation. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) boils down to this: If the student’s presence is not an undue burden to the agency, if staff does not spend a large part of their time training the student, and the student is an asset to the organization, then the student should be paid. Whether the student is enrolled in a credited internship course or not has little bearing on eligibility for compensation.
Work Study Option
Some small employers and nonprofit organizations do not have the resources to pay students a competitive wage. The State Work Study Program that reimburses up to 65% of wages paid to eligible students might be your key to being able to offer a wage. For more information, please refer to the PLU Student Employment website or visit the Washington State Work Study website.
Categories of Limited Paid Opportunities
There are some professions that may be open to liability risk if they were to pay their interns, due to the perceived risk of a nonprofessional participating in a professional quality work assignment. Organizations such as police departments or similar legal related organizations, financial security organizations, or healthcare related organizations are less likely to be able to offer compensation. Though all quality organizations train and prepare their students so this risk is extremely low, it is believed to be unwise by these employers to offer paid internships for students involved in opportunities that work in these types of positions due to the perceived potential risk by their insurers.
A second category of limited paid opportunities is in the nonprofit sector. Because their funds are limited primarily to charitable donations (some with restricted government funding), they may not have sufficient funds in their budget to pay a student a regular wage.