When Unpaid Interns are Eligible to Collect Unpaid Wages

With many unemployed entry-level professionals and students seeking work in today’s economy, many young professionals are turning to unpaid internships. These internship opportunities are intended to provide a “foot in the door,” along with the experience that will enable the launching of a paid career.

However, not all employers legally qualify to allow interns to work without pay. The Department of Labor has outlined six criteria for determining whether an individual may be eligible to participate in an unpaid internship at a for-profit company.

1. First, the internship must include similar training as would be given in an educational environment.

This does not necessarily mean that the employer must provide formal training in a classroom setting, but the intern should enjoy a good deal of training during the program. Ideally, an unpaid intern’s time would be split between work and training.

2. The experience of the internship must primarily benefit the intern, rather than the employer.

This is probably the most difficult part of the test for private employers to pass. The surge in the number of unpaid interns is not a benevolent phenomenon. The fact that the economy is so tough at the moment means that some employers try to take advantage of the oversaturated job market in order to cut their own costs. A true internship should provide interns with transferable skills, rather than having them engage in less meaningful work such as filing documents or fetching coffee and mail.

3. The intern may not take over the duties of a regular employee and must work under close supervision of the staff.

An employer simply cannot lay off regular employees just because they know that they can hire unpaid interns to do the same work at no cost.

4. The employer may not receive an immediate advantage from the intern’s activities.

This means that the employer’s operations should be reasonably impeded from time to time due to the engagement with the intern. For example, by taking time out of the normal schedule to provide the intern with reviews, or formal training and mentoring.

5. The internship is not contingent on a job offer at the end of the term. In other words, a job is not necessarily available at the end of the term.

Although the intern should be able to receive employment at the end of the internship, the Department of Labor wants to avoid setting a trend that would allow employers to require their employees to work for a short time unpaid in order to get a paid position.

6. Finally, both the intern and employer have to both understand that the intern is not eligible to receive wages for the internship.

This is usually not the biggest issue: with so many individuals looking to distinguish themselves in anyway they can from their colleagues, many interns are more than happy to forgo pay. The problem arises when the employer takes advantage of the intern’s inability to get a job by making them perform work that directly benefits the employer without pay.

If your employer owes you unpaid wages due to contradiction of the Department of Labor rules above, contact the experienced California employment attorneys of Baker Law Group, LLP. Call us at (858) 452-0093 today to schedule your free consultation.