Hiring Students During Summer Break? Make Sure to Comply with Applicable Employment Laws
During the summer months, many employers take advantage of the availability of enthusiastic students on vacation to provide valuable work at lower pay. In general, such students are willing to work at a reduced rate so that they can record some worthwhile experience on their resumes. While most employers now understand that student employees generally may not be classified as unpaid interns, employers often mistakenly assume that on account of their temporary status, students may be paid a minimal fixed stipend, and are not entitled to any employee benefits during their summer period of employment.
In fact, student employees are generally entitled to at least minimum wage for hours worked, as well as some benefits during their period of employment. Employers should therefore be careful to act in accordance with all relevant city, county, state and federal laws which may be applicable to a company’s relationship with a student employee, and should consider the following:
- Employment Agreement. Many employers consider it “overkill” to enter into a written employment agreement with a student employee on account of the student’s temporary status. However, students, like all employees, should have their work relationship and expectations documented in writing, so that there is no misunderstanding between the parties as to fundamental employment matters, such as the work start and end dates, rate of pay, exposure to confidential information, and circumstances under which the student employee may be terminated. Absent such written documentation, the employer creates unnecessary exposure and potential liability for the company.
- Pay Rate. While students who are eager to have work experience on their resumes are often willing to accept a minimal stipend or rate of pay, student employees are generally entitled by law to minimum wage for all hours worked, as well as overtime in accordance with relevant wage and hour laws. A student employee’s wage rate may vary, depending on the age of the student employee, as well as the student employee’s location. Note that effective July 1, 2017 numerous jurisdictions (for example, the cities of Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California, and the states of Maryland and Oregon) will be increasing their minimum wage rate, and employers should be certain to apply the updated relevant rate of pay.
- Benefits. Most employers mistakenly believe that student employees are not entitled to employee benefits. While this may be the case with respect to certain benefits, whether a student employee is entitled to particular benefits will generally depend on the number of hours the student employee regularly works, as well as the period of time for which the student employee is employed at the company. Employers should evaluate each benefit plan on a case by case basis to determine a specific student employee’s eligibility.
- Applicable Discrimination and Other Laws. During their period of employment, student employees are generally protected by all relevant employment laws. Employers should interact with student employees as they would with any other employee, including but not limited to with respect to sexual harassment, race discrimination, and in some jurisdictions, sick time. To assume that on account of their temporary status, student employees are not protected by such laws, is incorrect and has the potential to create risk for an employer who is not vigilant.
In sum, while student employees may provide a valuable work pool for the summer months, employers should be careful to act in accordance with, and abide by, all relevant employment laws when employing such individuals.