Summer Help: Temporary Employee, Independent Contractor, or Volunteer?

Despite the incredible blast of winter we are experiencing this April, summer is coming. [Just an expression of faith!] With summer comes summer help. Whether it’s a stand-alone project or coverage for vacationing staff, it’s a rite of passage for many–we were once the young, bright intern and now take the role of the wise, experienced employer.

While this type of relationship can be a win-win for your organization and a student looking for a real-world experience, bringing on summer help can be a risk to your organization if classification of the hire is not handled properly.

To shed some light on this process, here are a few myths about summer help:

Myth #1: If you’re a nonprofit, you can hire summer help without creating an employer-employee relationship.

False. As most of our clients already know, nonprofits are governed by almost all of the same regulations as other employers. Nonprofits must make the same considerations over hiring as any other hiring entity.

Myth #2: If we offer a stipend, then we can avoid becoming an employer.

False. Changing the label and payment schedule doesn’t change the nature of a wage. If the payment is linked to the work, then this is likely an employer-employee relationship. A true stipend is more akin to a scholarship granted, i.e., an amount to reduce the burden of travel, lodging, and food while gaining educational experience. In a true stipend relationship, the experience is for the benefit of the student or trainee–not the organization.

Myth #3: If the hours are flexible or can be performed remotely, the hire is an independent contractor.

False. These criteria are less important to the classification than the nature of the relationship between management and hire. Independent contractors are individuals who are self-employed and need no supervision, such as an electrician hired to rewire outlets at the office. Most summer help need a great amount of supervision and training.

Misclassification is costly and should be avoided.

It is in your best interests to begin with the presumption that any hire is an employee and deviate from that only when the facts support classification as an independent contractor.
For more guidelines on the classification process, please refer to the Department of Workforce Development online resources at

Warmest regards (during this seemingly unending winter),

Sarah Kissel