You can’t pay for English whales (the queen owns those), but you should pay summer interns – as employees, not contractors

Whale summer internships paid unpaid employee independent contractorSome things you can’t pay for. All of the whales and sturgeon that live in English waters, for example, belong to the queen. Under an English statute from 1324, “The king shall have wreck of the sea throughout the realm, whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm, except in certain places privileged by the king.”

So if you wanted to buy an English whale this summer, you may be out of luck. U.S. business should be spending their money elsewhere — like on summer interns! Yes, let’s talk about summer interns. Paid or unpaid? Employee or independent contractor? Have I captured your attention? I knew it. Read on.

Paid or unpaid? The rules have been changing to make it easier to have unpaid interns, provided the internships have educational value and are not for the benefit of the business. This post provides some guidelines. The bottom line, though, is that it’s safest to pay your summer interns.

Employees or independent contractors? If you’re going to pay your summer interns, they’re probably your employees. It’s ok to have short-term, part-time employees. Even if your intern is working a sporadic schedule, a few days a week, a few hours a day, and just over the summer while school is out, your best move is to treat the person as your employee — not an independent contractor. That means you should withhold taxes, and the intern should complete an IRS Form W-4. (The high school kids will give you unforgettable blank stares when you ask them to declare their allowances on line 5. Try it, just for fun. Trust me.)

Your interns are learning the business. They aren’t in business for themselves. They probably meet none of the requirements for establishing independent contractor status — not under ABC Tests, not under Right to Control Tests, not under Economic Realities Tests. Not in a boat, not with a goat.

Summer is great for whale watching and internships. But be sure your interns are properly classified and properly paid. And make sure they know what they can and cannot do. They do not, for example, have “wreck of the sea throughout the English realm,” so update your onboarding materials accordingly.

© 2018 Todd Lebowitz, posted on, Exploring Issues of Independent Contractor Misclassification and Joint Employment. All rights reserved.

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