HR Tip of the Week

Posted on  |  Compliance

HR Challenges: Interns, Heat Illness, Allergies, Furloughs

This week, we cover additional HR challenges for the spring and summer, including whether interns must be paid, preventing heat illness, reducing allergens in the workplace, and handling furloughs.


For employers, internships often raise questions, particularly about whether interns must be paid. The U.S. Department of Labor now uses a "primary beneficiary" test to determine whether interns should be considered employees who are entitled to the minimum wage, overtime, and other protections of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The primary beneficiary test looks at whether the employer or the employee is the primary beneficiary of the relationship. If the employer is the primary beneficiary, then the intern is considered an employee, must be paid, and is entitled to all FLSA protections. Under the test, the employer must consider a variety of factors, including but not limited to, the extent to which:

  • The intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee.
  • The internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
  • The internship is tied to the intern's formal education program by integrated coursework or academic credit.
  • The internship accommodates the intern's academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  • The duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  • The intern's work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  • The intern and the employer understand that the intern isn't entitled to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

Your state law may have its own test. It is always a best practice to evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis, consult legal counsel, and when in doubt, pay interns at least the minimum wage and overtime when due.

Heat illness:

For most of the United States, spring and summer can mean high temperatures. Help employees acclimate to the heat, especially those who are new to working outdoors, or those who have been away from work for a week or more. Gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks keeping in mind that full acclimatization may take 14 days or longer. During a heat wave, even experienced workers should be acclimated to the conditions by starting with just part of the workload on the first day and increasing the workload each subsequent day. Consider these additional measures:

  • Schedule strenuous activity for the cooler parts of the day.
  • Provide plenty of drinking water.
  • Remind workers to drink water often (OSHA recommends about four cups per hour).
  • Train workers on heat safety.
  • Encourage workers to wear sunscreen.
  • Limit time in the heat to the extent possible.
  • Use shorter shifts.
  • Provide frequent breaks in a cool, shaded location.
  • Closely monitor workers for the signs of heat illness.
  • Have a plan for emergencies.

Note: Some states, such as California, specifically require employers to provide rest and recuperation breaks when working in the heat. Check your state law to ensure compliance.


Exposure to allergens in the workplace may negatively impact employees' productivity and jeopardize their health and safety. There are steps you can take to help reduce or avoid workplace exposure to allergens, such as:

  • Conducting an assessment of the work environment;
  • Adding HEPA-certified filters to ventilation systems and changing them frequently;
  • Using portable air cleaners with HEPA-certified filters;
  • Cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming more frequently and using HEPA-certified vacuum bags;
  • Keeping windows and doors closed when seasonal allergies tend to peak; and
  • Preventing conditions that are conducive to mold.


For some companies, business slows down during the warmer months. To adjust to lighter demand, employers sometimes consider furloughs. During a furlough, employees are placed on mandatory temporary unpaid leave. The decision to furlough should be thought through carefully with your pay requirements in mind. These requirements differ based on whether the employee is exempt or non-exempt under the FLSA, as outlined below:

  • Non-exempt employees, commonly referred to as "hourly" employees, must be paid for all time spent working. Provided non-exempt employees perform no work during a furlough, there is no requirement to pay them. However, if a non-exempt employee performs work during a furlough, they must be paid for all time spent working, even if such work wasn't "authorized" in advance.
  • Exempt employees must generally receive their full salary in any workweek in which they perform any work. Therefore, unless a furlough lasts a full workweek, exempt employees must receive their full salary. For this reason, employers generally furlough exempt employees only in increments of full workweeks.

Note: States may have additional requirements related to furloughs and pay so check your state law for compliance.

Depending on the state, the length of the furlough, and the employee's work history, a furloughed employee may be eligible for unemployment benefits. For instance, while a furlough is generally a qualifying reason to collect unemployment benefits, some states have a waiting period before workers can file. In states with such a waiting period, an employee wouldn't be eligible for jobless benefits if the furlough fell entirely within the waiting period. Check your state law, communicate with employees regarding their eligibility for unemployment benefits, and provide any required notice and information accordingly.


Preparation is the key to a smooth and productive spring and summer. Make sure you are prepared to handle potential challenges that the seasons may bring.

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