HootSuite gives interns back pay, ends controversial practice of unpaid internships In Canada




HootSuite, the Vancouver social media management company that came under fire recently over its practice of unpaid internships, has paid up all the interns who have worked there in the past six months.

“It was brought to my attention on Friday, April 5th that HootSuite had unpaid internship postings on its website that may have been in contravention of the Employment Standards Act of BC,” HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes said in an emailed statement.

“HootSuite conducted an immediate review with our Talent and Legal team and we have determined that some intern roles may not have been in compliance with Employment Standards Act of BC.

“To completely remove outstanding doubt around this matter, we will immediately rectify the issue by offering full payment, including interest incurred, to unpaid interns who had roles within our company within the last six months that were not in accordance with the ESA BC.”

HootSuite, which has grown from a Vancouver startup to take a leading role in social media management, faced its own social media storm after a post on the popular news and entertainment site Reddit drew attention to the unpaid internships.


The practice of having interns work for free, although widely touted as way to gain experience and help build a resume, actually amounts to unpaid labour under BC’s Employment Standards Act and regulations.

Under the act, a “practicum,” which is part of a formal education process and not considered to be work is different from an “internship.”

Here are the definitions of the two according to the Interpretation Guidelines Manual for the Act and its regulations:

A “practicum” is part of a formal education process for students enrolled in a public or private post-secondary institution that involves the supervised practical application of previously classroom taught theory related to course study. The students are usually engaged in studies to obtain a degree so as to pursue a career in education, medicine, or engineering. A practicum is “hands-on” training that is required by the curriculum, and will result in a certificate or diploma. It is not considered to be “work” for the purposes of the Act.

An “internship” is on-the-job training offered by an employer to provide a person with practical experience. Often internships are offered to persons who have completed a diploma or degree program and are seeking employment. Completing an internship does not itself result in an academic certificate or diploma. If the duties performed by interns fall within the definition of  “work” contained in the Act, the intern falls within the definition of “employee”, and the agency using the services of an intern falls within the definition of “employer”, internships will be considered “work” for the purposes of the Act.

And the act is unequivocal on the issue of paying for work.

Time spent by an employee performing labour or service for an employer is time worked and time for which wages are payable.

At a time when many people have come to expect content and services online to be free, it should probably come as no surprise that some employers have people working for them with no compensation.

That may work for practicums, as BC’s Employment Act stipulates, but at least in that case the workers are getting something – presumably credit towards a diploma, degree or some other professional recognition.

What about people who aren’t students and can’t count their unpaid labour as part of their costs of getting an education? How are unpaid interns supposed to pay the rent? Buy groceries?

I’m glad to see HootSuite has ended its practice of unpaid internships and hopefully its public acknowledgement of the mistake will prompt others to follow suit.

“I appreciate those who have taken the time to bring this to our attention,” Holmes said. “ I too am passionate about the Vancouver tech industry and committed to making  it stronger.

“HootSuite will continue to offer  its internship program, ensuring that future internship positions are compliant with the Employment Standards Act of BC. I remain confident that our program offers young professionals unique opportunities to build their careers and I will proudly continue to provide this option for those interested.”

I realize it can be difficult for people to speak out or complain about not getting paid for their work, particularly if they are hoping to eventually get paid work with a company or get a recommendation they can parlay into other paying employment.

I hope HootSuite’s leadership here will encourage young people starting out in the digital sector to speak out and stand up for their right to be paid for their work.