In many fields today, students are told that unpaid internships are key to their education and career development. While some unpaid internships do provide valuable experience, all too often interns find that their positions amount to providing free remedial labor—delivering coffee or lunches to the office, answering phones, filing documents or doing data entry. Further, to the limited extend that unpaid interns are able to make useful professional connections, this benefit is largely limited to those of us whose parents are able to finically support them during the internship.
Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast legal rule to determine whether an internship ought to be covered by minimum wage and overtime laws. Rather, both the federal Department of Labor and the California Department of Industrial Relations look at several factors to decide whether an unpaid internship is legal. They include whether:
- The position is similar to training one might receive in vocational schools.
- The internship exists for the benefit of the interns.
- Interns work under close supervision and do not replace other employees.
- The employer does not immediately benefit from the internship. The employer’s regular operations may even be impeded by the internship.
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
- The employer and intern both understand that the intern is not entitled to wages.
No one factor will entirely determine whether an internship is really a position that requires pay. So, for example, even if you agreed to work an internship without pay, your employer still may have been legally required to pay you if the position was not educational, resembled paid positions at the organization, did not exist for your benefit, and directly benefited your employer.
Seeking backpay for an unpaid internship is a relatively new legal strategy, and the more cases that are brought, the more likely we are to change this unjust treatment of interns. If you have worked in an unpaid internship for which you did not get school credit, or otherwise did not gain educational experience, call our office for a free consultation, at: (323) 208-9171.