The Ontario Labour Relations Board has confirmed that interns who agree not to be paid may still be entitled to wages if the work they perform looks more than labour than training.
In Sandhu v Brar, Mr. Brar agreed to work as an unpaid co-op student for a computer services company. His work included installing software, answering telephones, and being instructed on how to build personal computers. After working almost 90 hours Mr. Brar filed a claim with the Ministry of Labour for unpaid wages. The Board found the training provided to Mr. Brar was not comparable to “vocational school training” to become a computer technician and that Mr. Brar was entitled to pay for his work.
This decision is certainly a step in the right direction for intern rights. It emphasizes that employers in Ontario cannot avoid paying minimum wage to interns who are performing work, even where that intern has expressly agreed to an unpaid position. To learn more about the law surrounding internships in Ontario visit our What is the Law? page.
Employment lawyers in Ontario are beginning to give intern issues some attention. Sean Bawden from Kelly Stantini LLP in Ottawa is encouraging employers of interns to seek legal advice. In response to the Sandhu v Brar case he notes that the “requirements for unpaid internships are strict and difficult to meet” (“Coop Student Owed Wages Despite Agreement“). The Buchanan Ontario Workplace Law Blog writes that after Sandhu v Brar “there could be interesting times ahead” since the majority of unpaid internships do not meet the criteria set out in the Employment Standards Act (“Growing Controversy over Unpaid Internships“).
If you are an intern that wants to file a claim for unpaid wages, visit our Claim Back Your Pay page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.