Monday, June 22, 2009

Internships are not an opportunity to find an unpaid workerforce

So as we have been seeing many people are offering what used to be paid positions to "interns." Sidestepping the ethical question, we can consider the legal question of unpaid internships.

Many of the newer people in the industry want to know about how to graduate to paying assisting work. The fact is if people do not report the full time 2-3 month "internships" that are illegal then the concept of paid assistants will go away forever. Already many jobs that were paying in the past are being done by unpaid "interns."

How do you know if the internship you see being offered is illegal?

This is a great website that is a resource for these questions. You can also report illegal internships to the Department of Labor.

Unpaid internships can be illegal in the United States if they don’t meet some of the following requirements from the Fair Labour Standards Act.

1. The training, even though it includes actual operations of the facilities of the employers, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school.
2. The training is for the benefit of the student.
3. The student does not displace a regular employee, but works under the close observation of a regular employee or supervisor.
4. The employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the student; and on occasion, the operations may actually be impeded by the training.
5. The student is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period.
6. The employer and the student understand that the student is not entitled to wages for the time spent training.

There’s a good letter to an intern from the Department of Labor that details those criteria. Note that you can report your employer on the web or by phone at 1-866-4-USWAGE. Or you can write a testimony to inform other potential interns – go to or Even third parties can file a lawsuit against an employer that offers unfair internships.

see the letter referenced above here … rnship.htm

Pay special attention to number 3, that is where most of these internships fail. If the majority of the activities are done solo, such as downloading images, filing, making phone calls, keeping the equipment tidy, hauling heavy equipment around, driving or doing errands then what you have is not a legal unpaid internship. At that point the positions must be paid at least min. wage.

Also internships that require 11+ hours of time a week could be logically seen to displace a regular employee.

I recently saw an internship that expected 40+ hours a week from the intern. That is not an internship, that is an unpaid job.

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