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[Ask HR] Are unpaid internships legal in Canada?

A question we get fairly often, typically from companies expanding into Canada and Canadian companies growing their workforce:

Are unpaid internships legal in Canada?

Short answer is that in many provinces it is permitted with certain restrictions and others it is not. Many organizations utilize unpaid interns even though there are no central laws or legislation in Canada defining or regulating internships directly. The only guidance available to employers is that each province has its own employment standards legislation, regulations and/or guidelines that may apply to interns. A general summary is below:

ONTARIO

A person is not considered an employee if these six conditions are met:

  1. The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school
  2. The training is for the benefit of the individual
  3. The person providing the training derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the individual while he or she is being trained
  4. The individual does not displace employees of the person providing the training
  5. The individual is not accorded a right to become an employee of the person providing the training
  6. The individual is advised that he or she will receive no remuneration for the time that he or she spends in training

BRITISH COLUMBIA

In BC ”Work” is defined as labour or services an employee performs for an employer. An “internship” may be considered “work” and therefore is subject to the minimum wage. If the duties performed by interns fall within the definition of “work” contained in the Act, the intern falls within the definition of “employee”.
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 or any wage.

QUEBEC

A person is considered an “employee” if these criteria are met:

  1. The person performs work that is defined by an employee
  2. The person’s tasks are clearly defined
  3. The person receives remuneration

Therefore, unpaid interns (commonly called an Stagiaire in Quebec) are generally not considered employees, but this can be evaluated on a case by case basis.

ALBERTA

An “employee” is an individual employed to do work who receives or is entitled to wages. The definition “entitled to wages” is not defined and therefore it’s a case by case situation in Alberta if Interns should receive a minimum wage.

MANITOBA

An “employee” is defined as “an individual who is employed by an employer to do work.” ”Work” is defined as “skilled or unskilled manual, clerical, domestic, professional or technical labour performed or services provided by an employee.” An intern therefore would very likely be entitled to the minimum wage.

SASKATCHEWAN

An “employee” is defined as someone who receives or is entitled to remuneration for labour or services performed for an employer. Again “entitled to remuneration” is not defined so it’s not clear if interns should receive a minimum wage.

NEW BRUNSWICK

An “employee” is defined as a person who performs work or supplies services to an employer for wages. Unpaid interns are likely permitted.

NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR

An “employee” is defined as a person who works under a contract of service for an employer. This definition of employee is sufficiently broad to include unpaid interns, meanings that all interns in Newfoundland & Labrador are entitled to minimum wage.

NOVA SCOTIA

An “employee” is defined as a person employed to do work. Based on this broad definition, unpaid interns would not be permitted.

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

An “employee” is a person who performs any work for or supplies any services for an employer for pay, and includes “a person who is being trained by an employer to form work for or supply services to the employer.” Unpaid interns may be exempt from minimum wages.

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