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Are Unpaid Internships Legal in Ontario?

  • Issued: June 2011
  • Content last reviewed: January 2018

See also: Young Workers | Disclaimer

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.

Generally, if you work for another person, company or other organization and you are not in business for yourself, you are an employee, and therefore entitled to ESA rights such as the minimum wage. An intern will generally be considered to be an employee for purposes of the ESA if the employer provides the intern with training in skills that are used by the employer's employees.

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, or under a program approved by a private career college registered under the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005. This exception exists to encourage employers to provide students enrolled in a college or university program with practical training to complement their classroom learning.

Employers are prohibited from misclassifying employees as interns. If an employer misclassifies an employee as an intern, an employment standards officer can order the employer to comply with the ESA, issue a notice of contravention and/or prosecute the employer.

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.

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.

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help employees and employers understand some of the minimum rights and obligations established under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the ESA or regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation. Although we endeavor to ensure that the information in this resource is as current and accurate as possible, errors do occasionally occur. The ESA provides minimum standards only. Some employees may have greater rights under an employment contract, collective agreement, the common law or other legislation. Employers and employees may wish to obtain legal advice.