Do Interns in Pennsylvania Have a Right to Workers’ Compensation?

Internships are often an attractive option for students and even adults transitioning careers because it provides practical experience, and the rate at which interns are converted to full-time employees is more than 72% in the post-recession market. Internships may not generally be regarded as dangerous positions, but the rate at which interns suffer injuries usually does not deviate from the rate at which paid employees do in the same field. The issue is whether they have the same rights, and if so, it may require a workers’ comp lawyer to assert those rights.

What Is Workers’ Comp?

Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance. It protects employees by guaranteeing compensation in the event of an injury. It protects employers because employees surrender their right to sue, so employers accept some liability while avoiding negligence lawsuits. In the U.S., each state has its own Workers’ Compensation Act, but there are some federal laws at play as well.

Not All Internships Are the Same

When determining whether an intern will be viewed as an employee and thus covered by workers’ comp, the kind of internship and the type of work both matter, as it provides context. You may think that a paid intern is guaranteed the protection, but this is not necessarily the case. Likewise, there are scenarios were an unpaid intern would be protected. Types of internships include:

  • Paid internships, which involve employee-like compensation
  • Partially paid internships, which generally come with a stipend
  • Unpaid internships, which provide value in terms of experience

Federal Labor Standards Act

While workers’ comp is generally controlled by the state, there are federal laws that influence it. Fearing that companies would abuse internships, the U.S. Department of Labor introduced the FLSA, which it based on various appellate rulings. This law provides guidelines through which a judge should consider a job not by its label but its characteristics. Evaluation factors include the extent to which:

  • The lack of compensation is clear
  • Training provided is comparable to education
  • The intern is academically rewarded
  • Duration of the position is limited
  • Intern work complements employee efforts
  • A paid position may await the intern

How the Courts May Decide

The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act covers full-time, part-time and seasonal employees but does not explicitly protect interns. Whether an intern was or is being paid is a strong factor but usually not the determining factor. The law has a concept of a casual worker. This is generally a position that is more sporadic than formalized. If the judge deems you a casual intern, then you would not be entitled to workers’ compensation even if it were a paid position. On the other hand, if a judge deems an internship to having occupied a role that would have otherwise been filled by a paid employee, then you can receive compensation even though the position was unpaid.

Filing for Workers’ Comp as an Intern

It may be unclear at the onset whether you have a right to compensation. You have to start the process, and it is strongly recommended you seek legal counsel as early as possible. In Pennsylvania, you have 120 days to inform your employer. The employer then has 21 days to either accept or deny the claim. If the employer denies the claim, you then have up to three years to appeal that decision.

Receive Personalized Legal Advice

Are you an intern or perhaps someone involved in work research who was injured during those activities? You may have a legal right to worker’s compensation, and we’d like to help. Our law firm focuses on Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law. We offer a broad range of legal services related to the domain, have handled many such cases and can provide you with local representation. Our firm would welcome the opportunity to provide you an initial consultation with a workers’ comp lawyer at no charge. We are licensed in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, and you can contact us online or by calling our office at 908-200-2297.

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