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Are Unpaid Internships Legal in Ontario?

  • Issued: June 2011
  • Content last reviewed: March 2014
  • See also: Young Workers

The Ministry of Labour is committed to ensuring fairness and protecting young workers. The fact that you are called an “intern” does not determine whether or not you are entitled to the protections of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), including the minimum wage.

Here’s what you need to know: generally, if you perform work for another person or a company or other organization and you are not in business for yourself, you would be considered to be an employee, and therefore entitled to ESA rights such as the minimum wage. There are some exceptions, but they are very limited, and the fact that you are called an intern is not relevant.

One such circumstance where a person can work as an intern for no pay concerns a person receiving training, but it has very restrictive conditions. If an employer provides an intern with training in skills that are used by the employer's employees, the intern will generally also be considered to be an employee for purposes of the ESA unless all of the conditions below 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 intern. You receive some benefit from the training, such as new knowledge or skills.
  3. The employer derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the intern while he or she is being trained.
  4. Your training doesn't take someone else's job.
  5. Your employer isn't promising you a job at the end of your training.
  6. You have been told that you will not be paid for your time.

Another exception concerns college and university programs. The ESA does not apply to an individual who performs work under a program approved by a college of applied arts and technology or a university. This exception exists to encourage employers to provide students enrolled in a college or university program with practical training to complement their classroom learning.

If someone performing work as an unpaid intern is unsure of whether he or she is excluded from the ESA, he or she should call the Employment Standards Information Centre toll-free at 1-800-531-5551 for further information.

All information provided anonymously by third parties to the Employment Standards Information Centre about possible violations is passed to the appropriate Ministry staff for review and for possible proactive activity.

It is important to note that an individual who provides anonymous information to the ministry may not have anti-reprisal protection and would not have the right to an appeal if he or she was dissatisfied with the outcome of Ministry enforcement activity unless an order was issued on their behalf.

If you have additional questions about the ESA please call our Employment Standards Information Centre at 416-326-7160 or toll-free at 1-800-531-5551.