Interns and Workers' Compensation Insurance

Paid and Unpaid Interns Are Usually Covered

an older woman working with a younger woman intern on a computer
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

All states except Texas require employers to provide workers' compensation insurance to their employees.

Workers' comp insurance provides coverage in case the employee is injured on the job or develops a medical problem or illness because of the job. This insurance is usually available if you're an intern, even if you aren't paid for your work.

Key Takeaways

  • In most cases, interns can get workers' compensation benefits, even if their internship is unpaid.
  • While state laws vary, unpaid interns whose tasks and schedules are dictated by their employer are considered employees.
  • You should file a workers' compensation claim as soon after your injury as possible.
  • If your employer doesn't offer workers' comp, you may want to consider contacting a lawyer.

Workers' Comp Insurance and Interns

Employers, with very few exceptions, are usually required by to law to provide workers' compensation coverage for interns, both paid and unpaid. In Minnesota, for example, student teachers are considered employees and are entitle to workers' comp.


In general, unpaid interns can get workers' comp if their schedule and daily tasks are controlled by their employer. However, this may vary based on state law.

Exceptions include student interns that do non-manual work for a 501(c)(3)-designated religious group, charity, or educational institution providing non-manual services. In these situations, interns are exempt from mandatory coverage but can be covered voluntarily.

If workers' comp is offered as an option, carefully consider if it makes the best sense for you. If you are injured at work, you will usually get some benefit payout from a predetermined worker's comp benefits structure unique to your state, but no state offers benefits to match 100% of your income, and, in many cases, will limit your medical expense coverage. Typically, an employee who is totally disabled from a work injury will receive 60% of their average weekly pay.

Worker's comp is a safety net to avoid litigation—it is not intended to provide a legal avenue to file a lawsuit for damages. Before you make the decision to opt-in for worker's comp check your state's department of labor or insurance division to see what the laws are in your state.


Unpaid interns are usually eligible for workers' comp, but volunteers are not.

Many states have worker's compensation laws that automatically bar employees and interns from suing their employer for damages even if an employer broke a law, harmed someone on purpose, or was found negligent. However, there may be exceptions for cases in which a third party is responsible for the injury, your employer intentionally injured you, or your injuries result from toxic substances in the workplace.

What Intern Workers' Comp Covers

When available or required by law, interns are eligible for the same coverage as full-time employees. Worker's comp is not health insurance coverage—it is accident, accidental death, and job injury or illness safeguard insurance.

If you are injured on the job while interning and have workers' compensation insurance, you can file a claim to collect lost wages and medical expenses for the injury. If you are an unpaid intern, you may still be able to file a claim for medical expenses, but not for lost income.

The workers' comp system is designed to protect employers from being sued. States that do not allow employers to be sued also require that employers provide coverage to all employees and interns. In general, employers are not allowed to pass any of the costs of workers' comp insurance on to interns or employees. All premiums must be paid for by the employer, with just a few exceptions depending on state law.


If you're an unpaid intern, your company may calculate your workers' comp coverage based on what an entry-level employee would receive.

What to Do If Injured on the Job

If you are an intern and have been injured at work, immediately contact your human resources department or manager and ask how you can file a worker's comp insurance claim. Your state may have a deadline for how long you have to file after the injury. For example, your workers' comp claim may be denied in Florida if you don't file your claim within 30 days of the incident. If your employer does not have coverage for you, or your worker's comp claim is denied or offers unsatisfactory benefits, contact a worker's compensation insurance attorney immediately.

In some cases, you may be able to sue the worker's comp system (an administrative claim) or sue a third party (civil claim.) Worker's comp laws are complicated, and if you have a dispute, it is always best to contact an attorney to at least get a free consultation to explore your rights under your own state's law.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are unpaid interns covered under workers comp?

In general, an unpaid intern is covered by workers comp if their employer directly controls their schedule and duties. However, this may vary based on state law.

Are unpaid interns covered by workers' comp in New Jersey?

No. Though every employer in New Jersey must carry workers' compensation insurance, they aren't required to provide workers' comp to unpaid interns.

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  2. Minnesota Legislature Office of the Revisor of Statutes. "2021 Minnesota Statues: 122A.69 Practice or Student Teachers."

  3. Cole, Fisher, Cole, O'Keefe + Mahoney. "Are Interns Entitled to Workers’ Compensation Benefits?"

  4. New York State Workers' Compensation Board. "Employers' Handbook: A Guide to the Workers’ Compensation and the Disability Benefits Systems for the New York State Business Owner," Page 36.

  5. The Hartford. "How Is Workers' Comp Calculated?"

  6. SFM. "Even Unpaid Interns May Be Eligible for Workers' Comp."

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  12. The Hartford. "New Jersey Workers' Compensation."

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