Unpaid Internships: Are They Free Labor?

 In Employment Law

In the last decade, the popularity of internships has increased significantly. Employers are able to obtain assistance without compensating employees under the guise that the internship helps advance a person’s career. Some companies have even turned previously paid internship into unpaid positions. While some unpaid internships might be a great opportunity to gain experience in a field, other positions likely violate both federal and state labor laws. It is critical that people who are interns take the necessary steps to protect themselves from unfair labor practices by understanding the difference between legitimate internships and unfair ones. In some situations, it might be critical to obtain the assistance of a skilled employment law attorney who can help to obtain wages that a person should have been paid.

Signs of a Legal Unpaid Internship

In April 2010, the United States Department of Labor published a sheet to help people to determine whether they should obtain minimum wage and overtime in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act. The six signs that courts look for to determine the presence of a legal unpaid internship include the following:

  • Educational: The internship is similar to training that a person would receive in an educational environment even though it includes facility operation.
  • Employer Advantage: The employer must not receive any immediate advantage from the intern’s activities.
  • Internship’s Benefit: The experience exists primarily for the benefit of the intern rather than the company.
  • No Job Offer: The intern must not automatically be entitled to a paid position at the time that the internship ends.
  • No Wage Entitlement: The employer and intern must understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for time spent in the internship.
  • Supervision: Work under the supervision of existing staff, the intern does not disrupt regular employees.

Failure by a company to satisfy even one of these elements increases the likelihood that an employment relationship rather than an internship exists. Some of the other factors that decide the nature of the work relationship include if the company is for profit or non-profit and whether the intern receives credit from an educational center for the work provided.

How Courts Use the Six-Factor Internship Text

Various courts have applied these six factors in unique ways. The 2nd and 11th Circuit Court of Appeals have created a “primary beneficiary test” under which a company is able to gain a limited benefit from an intern provided that the intern is the party that primarily reaps the advantages of the work relationship. Other courts examine the degree to which the program is connected to an academic pursuit. It is likely that at some point in the future, courts will create a standard approach to determine if a work relationship constitutes an unpaid internship or a relationship under which a person is owed compensation.

Speak with an Employment Attorney Today

It is critical to remember that not all interns are college students. Instead, interns include people with a variety of degrees and occupations including some individuals who want to switch fields or gain experience in a niche area. If you are an unpaid intern whose employer benefits from your work contribution, do not hesitate to speak to an attorney at Herrmann Law. Call our law office today to schedule an initial free consultation.

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