College Recruiting, Hiring & Recruiting

Time to Review Unpaid Intern, Youth Hiring Rules

Summer is right around the corner and for employers that hire minors or use college students as unpaid interns, you should take the time to review your hiring practices to make sure they are in compliance with federal law.


Source: Petar Chernaev / E+ / Getty

DOL Changes Rules for Hiring Interns

In January 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) revised the test for determining whether interns at for-profit businesses may be unpaid. The new rule makes it easier to use unpaid interns. According to the DOL, when determining whether an intern may be unpaid, an employer must examine the extent to which:

  1. The intern and the employer understand that there will be no compensation;
  2. The internship provides training similar to training that would be provided in an educational environment;
  3. The internship is tied to the intern’s educational program by integrated coursework or academic credit;
  4. The internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar;
  5. The internship’s duration is limited to the period in which it provides the intern beneficial learning opportunities;
  6. The intern’s work complements (rather than displaces) the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits; and
  7. There is no entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

State Law Restrictions on Employment of Minors

Every state has laws specifically dealing with child labor issues. When federal and state standards are different, the rules that provide the most protection to youth workers will apply. Employers must comply with both federal law and applicable state laws.

For example, Michigan’s Youth Employment Standards Act imposes a number of restrictions on the type of work teens may perform as well as their hours of employment. First, with a few exceptions (e.g., sports referees), teens younger than 14 cannot be employed. Moreover, minors cannot be employed in certain hazardous occupations defined in state regulations. In addition, minors cannot be employed in cash-handling jobs after sunset or 8:00 p.m., whichever is earlier, unless an employee older than 18 is present.

Michigan minors also can’t be employed at places where alcoholic beverages are distilled, rectified, compounded, brewed, manufactured, bottled, sold at retail, or consumed. However, minors can be employed in restaurants that serve alcohol if more than 50% of the gross receipts are derived from the sale of food or other goods.

In Michigan, minors younger than 16 can’t work between 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Minors who are 16 or older cannot work between 10:30 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. but may work until 11:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and during vacations or other periods when they aren’t regularly enrolled in school. Minors cannot work more than 6 days a week or more than 8 hours per day on average (or 48 hours per week) and can never work longer than 10 hours per day. In addition, minors may not work more than 5 hours without being granted a 30-minute meal and rest period. Breaks shorter than 30 minutes are considered working time.

Finally, Michigan minors must obtain a work permit from their school before starting work. Michigan’s minimum wage is currently $9.25 per hour, but employees who are between 16 and 19 years old may be paid a $4.25 hourly training wage for the first 90 calendar days of their employment. Sixteen and 17-year-olds may be paid 85% of the minimum hourly wage.

For a full list of state employment laws related to the hiring of minors, click here.

Bottom Line

Be sure to refresh your understanding of the Youth Employment Standards Act before you hire minors, in Michigan, this summer. And be aware that while the old DOL rules made it extremely difficult to hire unpaid interns, the new rules, while still restrictive, at least open the door to the employment of unpaid interns in certain situations. Enjoy your summer!

Gary Fealk is an attorney and shareholder at The Murray Law Group, P.C., in Detroit. You can reach him at or 248-433-8708.