Working unpaid and unappreciated is something a college student expects when applying for internships, but is that right?
Working for a major company in you field of study is an invaluable experience. Most employers believe that experience is payment enough. However, that belief has recently been questioned.
Two cases have recently come to light about interns believing they should have been paid for their work. To read more specifically about these cases, read Intern-al Affairs_ Unhappy Interns Up In Arms About Unpaid Internships _ Com.
In 2010 the Department of Labor (DOL) released its Fact Sheet #71: Internship programs under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The fact sheet helped businesses determine if interns should be paid under FLSA.
The guidelines were as followed:
- The internship must provide training “similar” to that which would be given “in an educational environment;
- The internship must be for the benefit of the intern;
- The intern does not displace regular employees; instead, the intern should work “under close supervision of existing staff”;
- The company running the internship should derive “no immediate advantage” from the intern’s work and, on occasion, may find its operations “impeded” by that work;
- No promise of a job at the end of the internship is given; and
- It’s clear up front that the intern is not going to be paid for her/his work.
The interpretation of these statements can be different and causes disagreement between interns and employees.
Internships inherently benefit the company that hires the intern. If they did not receive any benefits, they would most likely not hire them.
If interns did not benefit the company, they would be doing useless work that was not educational.
Thus, interns are doing work that benefit the company and based on the DOL’s Fact Sheet qualify to be paid.
I don’t think, by any means, that all internships should be paid. That would cause less internship opportunities, and less students receiving this invaluable experience.
The language of the fact sheet, however, makes it difficult to justify hiring an unpaid intern.
Current cases involving interns suing their employers are claiming that their work contradict the guidelines laid down by the DOL’s fact sheet. I believe, based on the current language, that their claims are valid.
As a student currently looking for an internship, I am fully aware that my work won’t be paid until I gain enough experience to really benefit the company I am working for.
What students need to understand is that we require more training and supervision than a real employee that takes away from our total benefit to the company.
The experience that interns receive help further their education and eventually will help get them get a better job than they would have without it.
While interns are unpaid and unappreciated, I think it is a right of passage. I do think that the DOL’s fact sheet is currently worded incorrectly, but I don’t think that should change the availability of unpaid internships.