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Unpaid intern not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits

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in Compensation and Benefits,Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

Employees who are hurt on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, and so are some volunteers. But unpaid interns don’t meet either definition and, therefore, can’t collect for any injuries they incur while on an internship assignment.

Recent case: Mary Powers was a full-time student at the University of Central Florida (UCF), where she was studying to be a teacher. She arranged an unpaid internship with the Orange County School Board as a student teacher while she paid tuition to UCF.

Powers was injured when a student pushed her from behind and she hit a wall. She filed for workers’ compensation benefits and the judge of compensation said she was eligible. But the school district appealed. The Court of Appeals of Florida threw the case out. It reasoned that Powers didn’t fit the definition of either employee or volunteer because she was not paid and wasn’t volunteering her services in the traditional sense: She was required to serve the internship in order to graduate and qualify for a teaching certificate.  (Orange County School Board v. Powers, et al., No. 1D06-0069, Court of Appeals of Florida, First District, 2007)

Final note: Some volunteers who provide services to state, county, municipal or other governmental entities
are covered by workers’ compensation, while others are not. Unpaid interns aren’t covered. It’s an open question whether paid interns are. Some interns and volunteers have successfully sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act for minimum wages and overtime. Check with your attorney or insurance agent for information on whether you should add interns or volunteers to your policy or need to pay them.

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