Unpaid internships under threat as Bell Canada forced to close program

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Bell Canada has been forced to close down its internship program, after a legal dispute with a former intern over back wages put the company at risk of further related claims.

The unpaid internship program - known as the Professional Management Program - has been a core part of the telecommunications group's human resources arsenal.

Hundreds of young people are reported to have gone through the extensive program since it was commenced and run out of the company's Mississauga offices.

However, the Toronto Star has reported that a dispute with former intern Jainna Patel - who is suing for back wages for work done in 2012 - has put an end to the program.

The dispute - which is still ongoing - left Bell Canada exposed to further claims from interns.

Bell Canada's decision may cause more companies to reconsider their intern programs, with a rising tide of concern over the legal position these programs put companies in.

Many companies are reported to have begun paying their interns rather than leave themselves exposed to scrutiny, while others may be reconsidering their position.

HR professionals have long viewed intern programs as critical tools for recruiting and assessing potential new talent, while giving young people valuable work experience.

Fears abound that unpaid intern programs generally may face more regulation at the provincial and federal level, impacting the level of flexibility they give to HR teams.

The curtailing of these programs would also potentially disadvantage many young people who see the opportunity for work experience as a valuable first step in their career.

On-the-job work experience by completing intern programs has traditionally led to paid work within the company running the program or other related firms.

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