About HootSuites’s Internships
HootSuite Media Inc.operates a social media management system and is based in Vancouver, British Columbia. They offer a number of internships on their website, including “Strategic Accounts Analyst – Intern,” “Affiliate Marketing Intern,” “Community Ambassador, Europe – Intern,” “Community Ambassador Intern,” “HootSuite University Intern,” “Social Media Coach Intern,” “HootSuite University Multimedia Intern,” and “Revenue Operations – Intern.” These positions are available to university graduates willing to work full time for several months and, until recently, these positions were listed as “unpaid.”
Complaints on Reddit
Yesterday a Reddit user started a thread called “Hootsuite is hiring unpaid Interns, this is illegal in BC” and so far it has 391 comments. HootSuite responded by removing the following line from each internship advertisement: “Note this position is a 3 month internship at present with a commitment of Monday to Friday with core hours of 9am-5pm and that the role is unpaid.” HootSuite also made the following comment on facebook:
It is fantastic to see this issue gain so much interest and I really appreciate the contributions from the Reddit community. One user saved the internship advertisements before they were changed and another found the following quotation from an interview with David Oslen (HootSuite’s Community Marketing Director) from 2011: “My internships are (almost) always non-paid. Opinions throughout the industry differ on this point, but it’s your choice to make.” Someone even posted HootSuite’s Internship Contract and a link to details about HootSuite’s fancy new office space (presumably to make the point that the company is clearly capable of paying its interns).
BC Laws on Internships
BC’s Employment Standards Act states all employees must be paid at least the BC minimum wage ($10.25 per hour for most employees). An “employee” is a person receiving or entitled to wages for work performed for another, who was hired and receives training from an employer. ”Work” is defined as labour or services an employee performs for an employer whether in the employee’s residence or elsewhere.
According to the Interpretation Guidelines Manual, an “internship” may be considered “work” and therefore is subject to the minimum wage. An internship is defined as follows:
“An “internship” is on-the-job training offered by an employer to provide a person with practical experience. Often internships are offered to persons who have completed a diploma or degree program and are seeking employment. Completing an internship does not itself result in an academic certificate or diploma. If the duties performed by interns fall within the definition of “work” contained in the Act, the intern falls within the definition of “employee”, and the agency using the services of an intern falls within the definition of “employer”, internships will be considered “work” for the purposes of the Act.”
BC has distinguished an “internship” from a “practicum.” A practicum is “hands-on” training that is part of a formal education process and done for school credit. A practicum is not considered “work” and therefore not subject to the minimum wage.
Are HootSuite’s Internships Illegal?
HootSuite’s unpaid internships are almost certainly illegal in British Columbia. They do not appear to be part of a formal course of study leading to a certificate, diploma or degree and according to the original advertisement the intern is expected to work 40 hours per week. It looks like HootSuite’s unpaid interns would be able to file a complaint under the BC Employment Standards Act and seek the minimum wage they are entitled to for their work.
I would like to discourage HootSuite from simply informing candidates that contact them that these positions are unpaid (since it is no longer in the advertisement) and encourage them instead to offer jobs to university graduates that at least provide minimum wage compensation.
— UPDATE —
The Canadian Intern Association has just received an email from HootSuite’s Communications Manager in Vancouver with the following statement from HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes:
“At HootSuite, we pride ourselves on being an employer of choice in both Vancouver, and around the world. Recently, I learned about some concerns that a few of our internship job postings may not be in compliance with the local laws. I appreciate those who have taken the time to bring this to our attention and we will immediately review this internally. When we created the internship program, I believed we were doing the right thing by offering the opportunity for young people to add experience to their resume and join a Vancouver success story. If we learn these internships are not compliant, we will fix it.
HootSuite’s internship program was designed to help invest in and develop our local residents. Nearly everyone who has participated in the internship program has found it beneficial. For example, in the last year over 50 percent of the interns have received full-time employee positions at HootSuite. Many others have successfully moved on to strong careers at other BC companies, taking with them skills from their internship experience at HootSuite. The overwhelming majority of HootSuite’s interns and employees enjoy their jobs at HootSuite and the company was recently selected to win 1st place as “2012 Best Companies: More Than 100 Employees”, by BC Business.
To provide more detail on the HootSuite internship program, our legal review indicates that no more than 15 HootSuite’s interns in the past twelve months may be affected by the unpaid internship guidelines and will be reviewed by our team.
At HootSuite, we truly believe our internships provide positive opportunities and rewards to our employees. We are committed to review the program internally and follow the legislative guidelines. I have always been a strong proponent of the local technology industry and am committed to finding a solution that is fair for everyone involved.
I would like to commend HootSuite for responding to this issue so promptly and making a concerted effort to rectify the problem. I have responded to the email thanking them the statement and also suggesting that they pay past and present unpaid interns at least minimum wage retroactively for the hours they have worked. If HootSuite’s internships are modified to comply with existing employment laws in British Columbia we will be happy to give them a Canadian Intern Association stamp of approval!
I will also point out that the Reddit thread now has over 500 comments and this story has gotten a ton of press:
- Global News – “HootSuite hammered online for unpaid internships“
- Vancouver Sun – “HootSuite faces online backlash over unpaid internships.“
- 24 Hours Vancouver – “HootSuite accused of offering illegal internships“
- Globe & Mail – “HootSuite to review unpaid intern policy after barge of criticism“
- Yahoo! News Canada – “HootSuite under fire for using unpaid interns after barrage of online criticism“
- The Huffington Post – “HootSuite’s Unpaid Interns prompt viral outrage“
- British Columbia Institute of Technology Radio Station – Claire Seaborn speaks on Evolution 107.9
Great work everyone!
Please email us with more unpaid internship advertisements to add to our “Name & Shame” wall.