Workers’ comp for unpaid interns?

Q. A local college has asked our company to allow a student to work at one of our plants for credit this summer. The student would not be paid, which sounds like a great deal for the company. However, we are concerned about what would happen if the student were injured while interning. Would we be liable?

Both the Michigan Supreme Court (Betts v. Ann Arbor Public Schools, 1978) and the Michigan Court of Appeals (Macarthur v. Havenwyck, Inc., 2005), have held that a contract for hire for purposes of the Michigan Workers’ Disability Compensation Act (WDCA) may be established where there is an exchange of services for training or college credits toward graduation.

Clearly, an internship qualifies as a contract for hire for purposes of the WDCA, and your company would be liable for injury to any students working at your company under the WDCA regardless of whether students are being paid or receiving credit. You should coordinate any internship with your workers’ compensation carrier to ensure coverage.