Today I’m calling bullshit on Anokhi Media and internships in general.
Internship. It’s a dirty word that didn’t really cross my radar until 2005, a year or so after I arrived in Canada. No such thing really exists in the UK, or at least when I lived there it wasn’t rampant in the labour market. Now in Canada, internships can last up to an entire year and be unpaid.
So what is an internship? According to the Ontario government, an internship is basically unpaid, on-the-job training, and is clearly defined by the Ontario Employment Standards Act.
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:
- The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school.
- The training is for the benefit of the intern. You receive some benefit from the training, such as new knowledge or skills.
- The employer derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the intern while he or she is being trained.
- Your training doesn’t take someone else’s job.
- Your employer isn’t promising you a job at the end of your training.
- You have been told that you will not be paid for your time.
So there you have it. It doesn’t matter whether they are giving you some training, or whether they have told you it is unpaid, or whether this is a “trial” period before a paid job. It’s technically illegal unless it meets all six of the above criteria, you’re in full-time education, or in one of the exempt professions (such as, ironically, law).
According to David Doorey, professor of employment law at York University:
You won’t find the word ‘intern’ in our employment laws at all. It’s an industry term. There seems to be a widely held belief that an employer avoids our basic employment law rules simply by labelling someone an intern. That’s wrong.
Now whether many interns will do anything about this remains to be seen, as people are desperately trying to find employment and some are willing to work for free, given the dangling of a job at the end of the internship. Why is this a problem? Well, because the Ontario labour market is rife with illegal internships and people are being exploited.
According to Statistics Canada, unemployment in Ontario for those younger than 24 is 16.5 per cent. That’s more than double the rate of 6.3 per cent for those above 24.
Toronto lawyer and internship critic Andrew Langille has written a great piece about internships in Ontario on his blog:
We’re seeing the erosion of the entry-level position and paid employees being replaced with unpaid interns. Unpaid internships have a direct impact on the economy through contributing to youth unemployment, driving down wages, slowing economic growth, and allowing employers to replace paid employees with unpaid, vulnerable young workers or recent immigrants.
Welcome to North America people, where companies (like Anokhi Media) exploit vulnerable young people and immigrants. If you’re young and an immigrant, I really don’t fancy your chances… All the more reason to learn your rights under Canadian law.
Employment Standards Act
All this is relevant because most “interns” don’t even qualify to be interns, and that then technically makes them employees. As an employee, you now have rights, and as such are entitled to benefits under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, including some that are particularly relevant for Ontario’s black-market army of “interns” – protection from excessive overtime (48hr/week maximum) and the right to be paid a minimum wage ($10.25/hr).
Andrew Langille has the following to say about the ESA:
A few points need to be made about the ESA. This is a socially protective piece of law which was designed to give workers minimum rights in the workplace. The ESA contains two provisions critical to protecting interns: first, there’s a prohibition on employers and employees from contracting out from the minimum provisions contained in the Act – this means that you can’t undertake “work” for free under normal circumstances; second, there’s a provision setting out that employees need to be paid an hourly minimum wage.
The dual legal narrative related to unpaid internships is one of wage theft, employers not paying wages to young workers, and of misclassification, the concept that employers engage in a form of “mischief” to convince an employee that they aren’t entitled to the hourly minimum wage.
You may be wondering why I am writing about this. Quite simply, because I dislike companies taking advantage of people, and because one of my friends up until recently worked as an unpaid intern for Anokhi Media.
Anokhi is some Toronto-based media company focused on the South Asian lifestyle and entertainment niche, and was founded by entrepreneur Raj Girn.
Despite Girn personally promising my friend a specific paid job at the end of the internship – in person and in writing before the internship started – Anokhi Media pulled a bait and switch by yanking that job offer in the afternoon on the very last day of the unpaid internship and substituting it with an inferior job offer. Real nice. Girn herself didn’t have the balls to communicate the news personally, despite exploiting the “intern” between 7 and 16 hours per day, and instead got someone else to deliver the bad news.
Unhappy by Anokhi’s unethical treatment of her, my friend requested to be compensated for the time she had spent working at Anokhi Media, as per her rights under the Employment Standards Act. Unsurprisingly, after being reminded that the Employment Standards Act applies to all companies and that hers is not above the law, Girn referred the case to the company lawyer. The saga continues.