Many unpaid internships likely violate Fair Labor Standards Act

Summer is normally a time for many high school and college students to gain work experience. Often, students turn towards internships and more and more many students turn to unpaid internships in order to gain valuable and applicable work experience that will enhance their future careers. The tough economy has likely made unpaid internships more popular for students in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the country. Beware, unpaid internships must meet specific criteria under the Fair Labor Standards Act otherwise the intern must be paid.

The United States Department of Labor requires unpaid internships at for-profit companies to meet six requirements. The first requirement is that the internship must provide training similar to what an intern would receive in an educational environment. Next, the experience must benefit the intern. Third, the intern cannot displace other employees and must be supervised closely by the employer’s staff. The employer may not receive any immediate advantage from activities of the intern. Fifth, there must be a clear policy that the intern will not be entitled to a paid job after the internship ceases, and finally, it must be clear that the intern will not earn wages for the work experience.

If the internship does not meet the six criteria, then the intern is probably an employee and may be covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime laws.

When a company is in violation of the law, interns are not inclined to speak up because they do not want to jeopardize the chance to gain experience, job references and contacts. As one labor attorney puts it, internship programs are not meant to provide free labor. Internships are meant to better the student by learning a skill under the direct supervision of the internship site.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, “NetWorth: Internships usually must pay minimum wage,” Kathleen Pender, 6/22/11

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