Employees have to be paid for the work they do. When employers are offering training or experience to an individual as an intern, apprentice, trainee, or volunteer, different standards may apply. Employers may informally use these terms to describe a working relationship. These terms, however, are formally defined in law and grant workers certain rights.
The following areas are where different standards may apply.
An internship is work-related learning for individuals who want hands-on experience. Under certain conditions, interns may perform unpaid work. The test for determining whether an intern is paid as an employee depends on who benefits from the work completed. The United States Department of Labor provides guidance under federal law.
Employers should also consult state Administrative Policy ES.C.2, Hours Worked <link to policy> for additional guidance on state law. Due to changes in federal law, this policy is under review.
Paid vs unpaid internships
An intern may receive compensation during their internship, but this cannot be in the form of a regular wage. Compensation that is not intended to be a wage may be acceptable, this could include a stipend or reimbursement for expenses incurred during the internship. If an employer pays a regular wage similar to other employees, the intern is an employee.
Apprenticeship is a combination of on-the-job training and related supplemental instruction under the supervision of a journey-level professional. Registered apprenticeships must be approved by the Washington State Apprenticeship Training Council. Apprentices learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation, and achieve journey level status. They typically earn a percentage of a journey level wage, but it cannot be less than the state minimum wage.
Training and meeting time is generally considered hours worked, and must be paid. If all four of the following criteria are met, the training or meeting is not considered hours worked and the employee does not need to be paid for the time:
- Attendance is voluntary
- The employee performs no productive work during the training or meeting
- The meeting takes place outside of regular working hours
- The meeting or training is not directly related to the employee’s current work
All required on-the-job training must be paid. While training can be paid at an agreed wage, it cannot be less than minimum wage. If certain criteria are met, learners and student learners may be paid less than the state minimum wage <link>. Unpaid, required training, outside of required academic and licensing credentials, is not allowed.
A volunteer freely gives their time and talents without expectation of pay. A volunteer can only work for an educational, charitable, religious, state or local government, or non-profit organization.
Under law, volunteering is not allowed in a for-profit business.
Volunteers may be paid a stipend or nominal fee. However, if they are paid for their services beyond reimbursement for expenses, reasonable benefits or a nominal fee, they are employees and not volunteers.