Recent Ministry of Labour Blitz Finds $140,000 Owing to Unpaid Interns

In our article last month, we discussed the growing attention being paid to the issue of unpaid internships in Ontario. Since then the Ontario Ministry of Labour has released the results of a second workplace blitz designed to assess whether employers in the province are in compliance with the requirements of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 ("ESA").

The first heavily publicized blitz on unpaid internships was carried out in the summer of 2014. At that time, the Ministry investigated 56 different employers. Of those, 13 were found to be improperly using unpaid internships. It was found that the individuals in question were employees and entitled that the normal protections that workers receive. In total, the Ministry ordered that $48,000 was owed in unpaid wages, vacation pay and/or public holiday pay.

The Unpaid Internship: Exploitation or Opportunity?

The use of unpaid internships by some employers has become increasingly common over the past decade. Unlike employees, interns do not receive the same legal protections, nor do they receive a salary, vacation pay or overtime pay. An intern's only compensation is opportunity and experience. 

The use of unpaid interns has come under increased media and political scrutiny. Fuelled by horror stories of young interns collapsing under extreme workplace pressures, the issue reached the political agenda. In the summer of 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Labour carried out a highly publicized workplace inspection blitz to determine if intern rights were being respected.