If you’ve ever looked for a job in a newspaper or on a popular job-search website, chances are you’ve seen a posting for an internship. And while you may have been tempted by the job description-perhaps it sounded like your dream job-you were probably disappointed by the fact that it was an unpaid internship.
Unpaid internships are not a new thing to the business world, but recent lawsuits across the nation have begun to spur the debate over whether unpaid internships are actually legal and whether there is anything a person can do if they feel they have become a victim of unfair labor practices.
The first thing to know about internships is that they can be both paid and unpaid. Most states offer wage and hour compensation to interns and even consider them to be temporary employees in some circumstances. But for an employee to be considered an unpaid intern, there are six criteria that their job must fall under in order to not break employment law. But a few of these criteria are confusing and may need some clarification.
According to the Department of Labor, an internship must include training similar to that given in an educational setting. What is meant by that is the training program is structured around a classroom experience. If the intern does do any actual operations works, they must be taught skills that can be transferred to other employment settings.
Another criterion that may need clarification involves the terms in which the intern was hired. Labor laws state that an unpaid intern may not displace regular employees and must work closely with a supervisor on staff. If the intern receives any job shadowing experience, the relationship may be viewed as unpaid. But if the intern is required to do daily tasks without educational instruction and the intern is not being compensated with applicable minimum wage and overtime, then the employment could be seen as a violation of labor laws.
As readers of our blog already know, employment laws can be incredibly complicated to sort out on your own. Seeking legal representation may not be a bad idea for anyone who feels that they have been a victim of unfair labor practices because of an unpaid internship.
Source: ABA Journal, “More unpaid interns say they want to be compensated,” Wendy N. Davis, April 1, 2013