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Unpaid Internships: Against the Law UNLESS the Work Performed Is Meaningless...

You know I can't make that title up, right?

Topic - interns.  You face the following headache/morality play:

Manager: I don't have any budget to hire a person to do this task for me, and all my other people are swamped.Intern-buzzparadise

You: Ah yes, the old project triangle - money, time and quality.  Without any money, you'll be selecting high quality for the project, and it will be completed whenever you get around to it, right?

Manager: Wait!  I'll hire an intern!

You: Are you going to pay the intern?

Manager: No.  They'll work for free.

You: They might work for free, but you know it's actually illegal per labor law to have unpaid interns who perform work of value to you, right?

Manager: You're a communist.  I can hire all the unpaid interns I want, and they'll be happy to work for free for the experience.

You: Call me Vladimir, and I'm not responsible for our labor laws.  Like the government, I'm here to help.  And it's illegal to have unpaid interns doing real work .

In a little known and widely abused section of labor law, it's actually illegal to have unpaid interns who do work of value for your company.  I've gone round and round regarding this with managers in the past, but I'm happily at a company where we pay interns, so it's a non-issue.  Still, the law exists, so save the emails.  Here's some text from the New York Times since you believe them more than you believe a blogger like me (I deserve better BTW):

"The Labor Department says it is cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly and expanding efforts to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department’s wage and hour division.

Ms. Leppink said many employers failed to pay even though their internships did not comply with the six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be unpaid. Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern."

The money quote out of all of that is the following:  In order for an intern to be unpaid legally, "the employer must “derive no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities.

English version - if you have unpaid interns that do work that matters (which ironically, is what is most valuable to them in the real world) and you don't pay them, like Beavis and Butthead, you're breaking the law.

I can't tell you that the law makes sense, especially in an economic climate where so many are looking to change careers and would gladly take no pay for the experience they need.  Wanna argue about it?  Write your congress(wo)man...



I honestly don't understand why this is an issue. People, if you are going to HIRE someone and they are going to WORK for you, then you have to pay them.

The argument of, "gosh, they will be happy to do the work for no pay" is equivalent to hiring non-documented workers and paying them off the books. Just because someone is willing to work for nothing (or next to it) doesn't make it right or legal.

So I guess I am a communist as well. ;-)

M Costa

My company can't afford a paid intern. My staff doesn't have the time to train them. In the economic recovery as a result of the great recession, the health care law uncertainty, and the various array of new taxes, it doesn't make sense to bring on more staff, even at minimum wage.

If someone wants an internship with my company and is willing to work for free, that is great. They can get international business/market exposure and learn how my industry operates.

If they want a paycheck, sorry, we're not hiring.


Your staff doesn't have time to train the interns unless they work for free ?



That violates the law and differentiates a trainee from an employee. You have to train an intern and it can not benefit your company. Suck it up and pay, or don't look for one at all.

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