No Compensation? Your Internship Might Be Illegal

Many for-profit employers avoid paying employees minimum wage by hiring unpaid interns.

Rebecca Lorenzo, Copy Editor

Some interns slave hours away on the same projects another employee is getting paid salary to do. This is free labor, and it is illegal.

Castronovo & McKinney Employment Attorneys office report that employers will try to evade paying minimum wage to employees by classifying them as interns. Many-a-naïve intern is unaware the law makes it difficult for employers to avoid paying employees – even interns – minimum wage.

A Class Action Lawsuit

In 2015, a class action lawsuit acted against twins and fashion moguls Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen for doing just that.

The New York Daily News reported that an intern worked 50 plus uncompensated hours a week at the twins’ licensing and manufacturing company, Dualstar entertainment.

Duties were that of their paid employees: inputting spreadsheets, making tech sheets, running personal errands for paid employees, organizing materials, cleaning, photocopying and sewing, according to court documents. The suit estimated 40 more interns would be eligible for financial compensation as a result.

It is usually standard for interns to take on employee-level work. Working 50 plus hours unpaid is not.

Poor Interns Stay Poor.

When internships refuse compensation, only the rich get richer. Students who are well-off or live at home are free to snatch the resume-building internships. Poor or financially-independent students must work temporary jobs, negating their chances of getting that high-salary job in the future. This traps less fortunate students who might have a disadvantage behind richer students in finding good paying jobs.

Not paying interns is counterintuitive to the employer. Too many hours without compensation breeds less motivated interns. Employers should remember that reward motivates people.

Students must do their research before accepting an internship to avoid exploitation.

Unpaid internships have criteria.

The Department of Labor states a for-profit, unpaid internship is legal if it meets the following criteria:

1)      The internship is like training which would be given in an educational environment.

2)      The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.

3)      The intern does NOT displace regular employees but works under the close supervision of existing staff.

4)      The employer derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasions its operations may be impeded.

5)      The intern isn’t promised a job at the end.

6)      The employer and intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

There are exceptions.

Unpaid internships with cool benefits like employee outings or concert tickets are worth your time.

A non-profit organization does not legally need to pay you since it’s volunteer work.

Up to 10 through 20 hours unpaid at an internship you consider a gateway for your future career is okay to take uncompensated.

Rule of thumb: an internship that complements your lifestyle, is beneficial, doesn’t interfere with school or provides another form of compensation is worth “experience” pay.

Compensation applies.

No student should have to scrap for change in the couch to pay for cup noodles because “experience.”  Internships that feel like stressful full-time jobs probably are. It’s time to speak up.

Students do plenty of unpaid work in school. They don’t need 50 hours more of it. Students have skills and deserve compensation for working in excess or commuting far.

Slaving away at an “internship” does not make you an intern. It makes you free labor.

Your for-profit internship can afford to give you something in return for hard labor: a stipend, minimum wage, a paid dinner with your team, something.

Don’t let society convince you that being an intern means you deserve nothing. You are thousands of dollars in debt because you are an asset-in-training to the workplace.
Remember that.