Interns & Employees: One and the same? They Shouldn’t be.

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Employers taking advantage of free labor are an unfortunate trend.  Interns are becoming synonymous with employees, except they don’t receive any financial compensation for their hard work.  The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)–a federal law that establishes proper labor standards for employers to follow–sheds little light on this issue.  The FLSA describes an employee as “any individual employed by an employer.” The ambiguity of this rule swayed the U.S. Department of Labor to make amendments, including that interns are assumed employees and must be paid minimum wage UNLESS six criteria are met:

  1. The internship is similar to training given in an educational environment.
  2. The intern’s experience has to be beneficial for him/her.
  3. The intern works under supervision of staff and does not replace an employee.
  4. The intern’s employer does not receive any direct advantage by the intern’s work and sometimes might even hinder normal operations so that training occurs.
  5. The intern is not immediately hired after his/her internship has ended.
  6. Both the intern and the employer clearly understand that no wages are entitled for time spent during the internship.

Unpaid internship programs should be set up like a college level curriculum.  Interns should have the opportunity to master skills that can be used in future employment and should be matched with a mentor and watched over by managers in order to better the intern’s own growth.  Although financial compensation is not obligatory in internship opportunities, educational and developmental results are expected.  Long hours, overwhelming projects and no pay is taxing to say the least.  As someone with several previous internships, I understand the frustration interns endure when managers take advantage of free labor.

Posted May 8, 2014

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