CFL accused of violating Ontario labour law by not paying interns minimum wage

Internship postings like this one from the CFL have come under fire for requiring full-time work for less than minimum wage. (

The CFL's internship practices have come under fire and have been accused of violating the Ontario Employment Standards Act, but the league maintains it's operating within the laws. A group on the Reddit CFL forum started discussing the league's internship postings Thursday, many of which are listed as "full time" but only pay a monthly honorarium rather than the hourly minimum wage of $10.25, which some of the Reddit users have suggested conflicts with the Ontario Ministry of Labour's rules on interns and how they relate to the 2000 Employment Standards Act. However, CFL director of communications Paulo Senra said Thursday that the league's policies have been cleared by their lawyers.

"We've been operating our program and offerings under the legal opinion that we are well within the law," Senra said.

That isn't going to satisfy everyone, though. Reddit CFL moderator Braydon Stachel, who has been one of the most active people on the thread in question, told 55-Yard Line Thursday he sees the league's policies as highly problematic and potentially illegal.

"The most glaring issue with this approach to hiring skilled workers is the fact that it directly violates the Employment Standards Act," Stachel said. "First and foremost, that is the biggest issue with the CFL's job posting. The CFL has not fulfilled the six criteria that constitute a legal unpaid internship and have gone so far as to completely laugh at three of them."

What are those six criteria? Here they are, with some additional context, from the Ontario government's page on unpaid interns:

Here’s what you need to know: generally, if you perform work for another person or a company or other organization and you are not in business for yourself, you would be considered to be an employee, and therefore entitled to ESA rights such as the minimum wage. There are some exceptions, but they are very limited, and the fact that you are called an intern is not relevant.

One such circumstance where a person can work as an intern for no pay concerns a person receiving training, but it has very restrictive conditions. If an employer provides an intern with training in skills that are used by the employer's employees, the intern will generally also be considered to be an employee for purposes of the ESA unless all of the conditions below are met:

1. The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school.

2. The training is for the benefit of the intern. You receive some benefit from the training, such as new knowledge or skills.

3. The employer derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the intern while he or she is being trained.

4. Your training doesn't take someone else's job.

5. Your employer isn't promising you a job at the end of your training.

6. You have been told that you will not be paid for your time.

The CFL internship postings do appear to meet some of those criteria (namely #5 and #6, as both are apparent in those postings), and it's possible that they could meet #1, but whether they meet the other three is more in dispute. Stachel told 55-Yard Line Thursday he doesn't think they do.

"Regarding point 2: these interns are required to have training and degrees to obtain this position and it isn't contributing to their training," he said. "Regarding point 3: the CFL is deriving great benefit from their work as it seems they are using this to help drive their rebranding. Regarding point 4: these could very well be full-time paying jobs for many people."

Stachel went on to say it's concerning for those involved in areas like graphic design and web development to see those who already know how to do it asked to do so for less than the minimum wage.

"From a skilled worker's perspective, this completely devalues the work of graphic designers and web developers," he said. "The market for these types of jobs is already overly saturated and it has become dog-eat-dog to get a position. If these job postings were a true internship, the CFL would be mentoring students to help develop their skills. Unfortunately, what they are doing is asking already-skilled workers, who have multiple highly technical skills to work for below minimum wage, or in some job postings, nothing at all."

Stachel told 55-Yard Line he's a CFL fan, but he's disappointed by the league's approach here.

The CFL is a multi-million dollar corporation, a staple of Canadian heritage and in my opinion should do it's very best to protect and uplift Canadians (the way it does with its ratio rules). It should not be exploiting talented, educated people for the sake of giving them "experience". It's immoral, it's illegal and the league should be ashamed of itself for thinking they could get away with this practice

In the era where the CFL is making a massive push towards brand awareness and specifically awareness via social media and online portals to pay nothing and next to nothing to have that developed is just asinine and greedy. You can't even begin to argue the point of an ROI (return on investment) for the work these skilled positions are doing because they are literally not investing a dime into it. One job positing explicitly says you will be "one of the primary web developers for".

The CFL is opening themselves up to incredibly poor work towards a massive marketing operation that I've had one web developer inform me "will surely lead to their website being hacked or DDOS'd". Even worse, as the concussion lawsuit sits in court, the CFL opens itself up to legal recourse due to exploitation of its employees. I love the CFL. I love everything about it. I'm a diehard REDBLACKS fan, but I can't sit idly by when the league is so willing to exploit highly skilled and highly educated workers.

At this point in time, there are no legal challenges to the CFL's internship practices, so this is only a question of public perception. If a legal challenge is filed, then it becomes a very different ballgame, and then we'd find out for sure if the league is within the law the way it claims to be, or outside it the way its detractors claim. Even for now, though, this is a perception problem for the CFL, at the very least. Their statement certainly won't satisfy all of their critics, either. It will be interesting to see how this develops.