Unpaid internships replace paid work
A Word to the Wise
Published: Thursday, May 10, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 11, 2012 07:05
Internships are a stepping stone to employment for many college students. They provide academic credit to students nearing the end of their studies and provide on-the-job experience to graduates looking to transition from being students to employees.
While the theory looks pretty, the practice is lacking. The United States is currently coping with a high level of unemployment, but in spite of this fact, there are more interns than ever. While educational internships are acceptable by everyone’s standards, the ballooning amount of unpaid internships in this country has become a problem that must be addressed.
Employers increasingly abuse this practice to take on interns in place of hiring employees, requiring them to do work that others do not want to do. They have many young students working long hours for no pay, in hopes that their hard work will earn them marketable experience, familiarity in their industry and perhaps an eventual job.
They even have the public convinced that making interns pick up lunch or clean the workplace is perfectly legal and normal, neither of which are true.
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 set specific criteria for what could constitute an unpaid internship, and industries have begun to play fast and loose with following those rules.
• The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational
• The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
• The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.
• The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be
• The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
• The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship
I know friends that have interned at companies that did not follow half of these requirements. They were treated like assistants.
Internships were originally created by medical fields that required real-world application of what students learned in college. Now, they are being utilized by industries that have no real reason to take on interns other than to save money in payroll.
I find it ironic that all the same institutions that argue a fair market economy is the strongest, are using what is essentially free labor. Fortunately for them, the government has been turning a blind eye to the matter for the past decade.
While medicine will always have an established need for unpaid interns, other industries such as the film production, banking and fashion do not.
They need employees, and people need money.
There is too much gray area in the plight of the unpaid intern. They are required to live off either their own savings or
somebody else’s charity, and if that internship is in a metropolitan center that food and shelter is not so easy to find or give.
High-profile lawsuits filed on behalf of former interns at Fox Searchlight, the Heast Corporation and Charlie Rose have pushed this subject into the public eye, but this problem has not yet begun to be solved.
Many interns are reluctant to report misuse of their service for fear of being alienated in the industry they eventually want to work in, but for them to receive recognition and wages for their work, this silence must be broken.
I urge any students reading this column to keep the rules of an unpaid internship in mind. With 1.3 million unpaid interns in this country, someone is being exploited.
Know your rights.