The Department of Labor (DOL) and its Wage and Hour Division (WHD) are not only targeting independent contractor misclassification, but they’re also now coming after the misclassification–and misuse–of interns.

M. Patricia Smith, who went after New York employers for the misclassification of interns when she was that state’s labor secretary, is now heading up the campaign for the federal DOL as the agency’s chief enforcement officer.

Why is the DOL suddenly going after the misuse of interns?

Bottom line, it’s all about pay. Most interns should be paid unless it can be shown that they are truly trainees who are not doing any beneficial work for the company.

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy Leppink, acting director of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division.

The WHD has a six-point test to determine if an intern is really a trainee and not an unpaid employee, but most of it boils down to whether that person is being trained or whether he or she is doing work for the company that paid employees normally would do.

Employers, in this era of heightened scrutiny and enforcement of wage and hour compliance, it’s a good idea to get acquainted with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). A good source is Personnel Concepts’ FLSA Overtime Rules Compliance Kit, which will help you properly classify your employees.