We’ve all heard about how internships can be helpful for students to gain professional experience and maybe even gain a full-time job after the internship is over. However, not all internships have provided interns with the professional knowledge and skills necessary to advance in the working world. Even more disappointing are the internships where the intern is not paid and is required to do the work of permanent staff.
Unpaid Interns Lawsuit – a website by Outten & Golden – is dedicated to helping unpaid or low-paid interns seek fair payment for services provided as an intern. “Unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours they work,” wrote the organization in a statement. “…Employers’ failure to compensate interns for their work, and the prevalence of the practice nationwide, curtails opportunities for employment, fosters class divisions between those who can afford to work for no wage and those who cannot, and indirectly contributes to rising unemployment.”
Unpaid internships can be considered unlawful if certain conditions are met. The U.S. Department of Labor has compiled a fact sheet that helps determine whether interns should be paid the minimum wage or overtime for the services they provide to the employer. Below is a six-part test to help determine if an employer should be providing financial compensation to its unpaid interns:
- The training is not similar to that of an educational environment
- The intern is not benefiting from the internship
- The intern displaces regular employees
- The employer is receiving immediate benefits from the intern’s services
- The intern was promised employment after the internship has been fulfilled
- The employer has promised wages
Even if the internship is for academic credit, that doesn’t mean an unpaid internship is automatically legal. If an intern is working for free, and all of the statements in the six-part test are true, the intern should and can seek financial compensation for unpaid work.
One good place to start if you think you are entitled to back pay for an unpaid internship is to file a complaint with the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The office can be reached by phone or e-mail and there are no charges to file a complaint. After a complaint has been submitted, WHD will conduct an investigation and decide whether or not your unpaid internship is unlawful. All complaints with WHD are confidential, which means they won’t tell your employer you filed a complaint.
Other options for gaining financial compensation for an unpaid internship include filing a claim with your state labor agency, or filing a lawsuit. Organizations such as the Unpaid Interns Lawsuit want to hear from victims who have held an unpaid internship as far back as six years.
Last year, nearly 40 percent of internships in the for-profit sector were unpaid and subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Labor Department and even colleges have begun cracking down on unpaid internships, and though there have been victories, there are still many lawsuits that have not been settled.