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Can interns be independent contractors?

Not likely. An internship focuses on providing on-the-job-training and experience to an individual who has an educational background in a particular field of study, allowing him or her to apply this learning in a real-world setting for future career growth and development. Independent contractors are individuals who are self-employed and do not require supervision or direction in completing an assignment or project. With independent contractors, the employer has the "right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done," according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Independent contractors are responsible for filing their own federal and state tax requirements and providing their own equipment and tools to complete the project. Independent contractors usually offer their services to the general public and are people who are in an independent trade, business or profession.

Interns will generally receive guidance and direction from the employer, including daily job duties, training and coaching. Services an intern performs will most likely be controlled by the employer, and once an employee-employer relationship exists, an intern cannot be classified as an independent contractor.

Unpaid interns would not be employees or independent contractors; rather, they would be considered "trainees" and comparable to volunteers. See SHRM's guide on How to Determine if an Individual Is a Volunteer or an Employee for guidance on meeting the trainee requirements.


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