Is it OK to Ask the Intern to Get Your Coffee?

While bringing on additional employees and interns during the summer months is common among small businesses, taking the time to train them properly may not be. Having extra hands to help your business get through its busy season is invaluable, however, without structured training and education plans for these workers, you may be facing fines and even lawsuits, experts say.

For instance, you may want to think twice about sending that intern of yours on coffee runs for the next two months. Joshua Parkhurst, a partner at New York City-based Cary Kane LLP who represents employees as plaintiffs, said one major trend he sees on the upswing is lawsuits over unpaid internships.

“The first rule regarding internships is that the employer can’t be just getting work for free,” Parkhurst said. “These interns need proper training and compliance. You have to show that you have designed the program to teach them and give them certain skills.”

Businesses that are planning to hire interns should structure a program that either pays the worker at least minimum wage, or offers college credit from an institution that will coordinate with your company.

Also, all interns and seasonal hires should be trained in sexual harassment and discrimination policy in your workplace, Parkhurst said.

“These seasonal hires, companies might not have the infrastructure or wherewithal to properly train them,” he said. “Training in the area of equal employment opportunity can be time consuming, but if someone is there for two-and-a-half months and doesn’t get that understanding can go a long way in avoiding potential litigation.”

Then come the slips, trips and falls.  John P. O’Connor, Vice President, Strategic Product and Platform Development, Small Commercial at Travelers, said his company sees workers’ compensation claims hit their peak from June through September, when small businesses bring on summer hires. Workers under 30 also make up one-third of these claims.

“If they’re not trained, and don’t know your business operations, that can lead to injuries,” O’Connor said. “Especially those that are of high-school and college ages, that don’t have the experience of being in the workplace.”

Design a program that will train your employees in how to properly manage their day-to-day tasks, and reduce their risk of injury, he said. Even something as small as showing how to properly lift a box or stock item can help prevent injuries on the job. Also, consider what type of work you are giving to these employees, and if it is suitable for their age and experience.

And once they’re on the team—supervise them, O’Connor said.

“You can’t just get a seasonal hire in there and leave them on their own to sink or swim,” he said.

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