Make us your home page
Instagram

Unpaid internships to gain skills, edge

Unpaid interns cannot be used as free labor. That federal law has been on the books for decades. But with the economy continuing to sputter and employers looking to cut corners, conditions are ripe for abuse. • To that end, the U.S. Department of Labor recently placed renewed emphasis on the Fair Labor Standards Act's rules as they apply to internships. • The federal agency wants for-profit companies to know that they have to meet strict criteria when bringing on interns and not paying them.

"Voluntary internships are often positive and career-building experiences," said Dolline Hatchett of the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division. "But there are some clear rules for what is legal . . . and what is defined as an unpaid internship."

Among those criteria are the internship should be similar to training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace paid workers and that the employer "derives no immediate advantage" from the intern's activities.

Also, the internship must be for the intern's benefit, the intern is not guaranteed a job, and both the employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages.

As a not-so-subtle reminder to businesses and industries, the Wage and Hour Division posted the criteria on its website in April, when many students usually start to look for summer internships, Hatchett said.

"It also made sense because questions about unpaid opportunities come up during tough economic times," she added.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Wage and Hour Division deputy administrator Nancy J. Leppink said, "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."

Fine line

Dennis Nolan, a retired labor law professor from the University of South Carolina, said the austere economy can be a breeding ground for employers to skirt the law.

"As entry-level jobs dry up, students and recent graduates are desperate to find something else," Nolan said. "An employer says, 'Work for us as an intern, and you will gain some skills.' That may be good for those people, but the end result is the same. Posting a different label on a person's forehead is a simple way to avoid the Fair Labor Standards Act."

Hatchett said the Labor Department has not received any complaints, but it will investigate them if it does. Those found in violation of the law could be ordered to pay back wages or damages, she said.

But coming forward with a complaint has its own perils. Interns who think they have been wronged are probably reluctant for fear of being labeled a troublemaker early in their careers, Nolan said.

"If you filed a complaint, there are prohibitions against retaliation, but your chances of getting a job (with that company) have gone down the tube," he said.

Nolan said interns look at unpaid work with a company as a way of getting their foot in the door and gaining experience.

Holland Williams, director of career development at the College of Charleston, where just over 600 students become interns each year, said there is a growing trend among businesses to offer unpaid internships.

"Some were using them as part-time employees but framing it as an internship," she said. "An intern cannot replace employees. The company has to offer an educational experience in a professional setting. The intern is not turned loose to do his own thing."

Criteria for unpaid interns:

• 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 environment.

• The internship 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; on occasion its operations may be impeded.

• The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.

• The employer and the intern understand the intern is not entitled to wages for time spent in internship.

For information, complaints:

Call toll-free 1-866-487-9243 or go to dol.gov/whd or www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf.

Criteria for unpaid interns:

• 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 environment.

• The internship 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; on occasion its operations may be impeded.

• The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.

• The employer and the intern understand the intern is not entitled to wages for time spent in internship.

For information, complaints:

Call toll-free 1-866-487-9243 or go to dol.gov/whd | www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf

Unpaid internships to gain skills, edge 10/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 15, 2010 9:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: Amid a record turnout, regional technology group spotlights successes, desire to do more

    Business

    ST. PETERSBURG — They came. They saw. They celebrated Tampa Bay's tech momentum.

    A record turnout event by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, held May 24 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, featured a panel of area tech executives talking about the challenges encountered during their respective mergers and acquisitions. Show, from left to right, are: Gerard Purcell, senior vice president of global IT integration at Tech Data Corp.; John Kuemmel, chief information officer at Triad Retail Media, and Chris Cate, chief operating officer at Valpak. [Robert Trigaux, Times]
  2. Take 2: Some fear Tampa Bay Next transportation plan is TBX redux

    Transportation

    TAMPA — For many, Wednesday's regional transportation meeting was a dose of deja vu.

    The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday announced that it was renaming its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan will now be known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. But the plan remains the same: spend $60 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to bay area interstates that are currently free of tolls. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  3. Palm Harbor boat dealer facing litany of complaints of bad deals

    Business

    PALM HARBOR — With an aging father sick in the hospital and a son just graduating high school, Andrew Kashella, in between jobs, knew what he had to do.

    A sign on a front window of Gulf Coast Boat Sales, 37517 Us Highway 19 N, in Palm Harbor, notifies people they are under restructuring  The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has received 20 complaints against Gulf Coast Boat Sales in Palm Harbor. Complainants say they sold the shop their boats and never got paid and/or paid for boats they never received. Pinellas County Consumer Protection is leading the investigation.
  4. To catch a poacher: Florida wildlife officers set up undercover gator farm sting

    Wildlife

    To catch a ring of poachers who targeted Florida's million-dollar alligator farming industry, state wildlife officers created the ultimate undercover operation.

    To catch a ring of poachers who targeted Florida's million-dollar alligator farming industry, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set up an undercover operation. They created their own alligator farm, complete with plenty of real, live alligators, watched over by real, live undercover wildlife officers. It also had hidden video cameras to record everything that happened. That was two years ago, and on Wednesday wildlife officers announced that they arrested nine people on  44 felony charges alleging they broke wildlife laws governing alligator harvesting, transporting eggs and hatchlings across state lines, dealing in stolen property, falsifying records, racketeering and conspiracy. The wildlife commission released these photos of alligators, eggs and hatchlings taken during the undercover operation. [Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]
  5. CBO analysis: 23 million would lose health coverage under House-passed bill

    National

    WASHINGTON — The Republican health care bill that passed the House earlier this month would nearly double the number of Americans without health insurance over the next decade, according to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

    Demonstrators protests the passage of a House Republican health care bill, outside the the Capitol in Washington, on May 4. The House took the unusual step of voting on the American Health Care Act before the Congressional Budget Office could assess it. That analysis was released Thursday and it showed the bill would cause 23 million fewer people to have health insurance by 2026. Many additional consumers would see skimpier health coverage and higher deductibles, the budget office projected.