It is starting to feel like summer, with graduation dates on the calendar, long daylight hours, and plenty of high school and college students and recent graduates looking for resume-building work experiences. However, before you bring on any unpaid interns this summer – beware. There has been a recent flurry of lawsuits by interns claiming to be misclassified and seeking unpaid wages.

Attached is a particularly good article by Josh Sanburn at Time summarizing two recent lawsuits by interns in the entertainment and publishing industries (pdf).

While counter-intuitive, interns aren’t supposed to really be helpful to your business; rather they are supposed to learn from you. As the Department of Labor puts it, an employer is not supposed to derive any immediate advantage from the intern, and they can’t displace your regular employees. Also, while California’s DLSE still suggests that an intern be part of some accredited school program, that one fact alone is certainly not sufficient to qualify someone for intern status.

By the way, nothing prevents an employer from calling someone an “intern,” hiring them for a limited period of time, and paying that person minimum wage. In fact, that is often a very viable option.

Bottomline, just because everyone else does it, and has done it for years without getting sued, doesn’t make it’s okay, and doesn’t protect your company from being the next class action headline.