economics

April 3, 2010

Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, Officials Say

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 11:50 pm
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Many less affluent students say they cannot afford to spend their summers at unpaid internships, and in any case, they often do not have an uncle or family golf buddy who can connect them to a prestigious internship…

“It would have been nice to be paid, but at this point, it’s so expected of me to do this for free,” she said. “If you want to be in the music industry that’s the way it works. If you want to get your foot in the door somehow, this is the easiest way to do it. You suck it up.”

The rules for unpaid interns are less strict for non-profit groups like charities because people are allowed to do volunteer work for non-profits.

California and some other states require that interns receive college credit as a condition of being unpaid. But federal regulators say that receiving college credit does not necessarily free companies from paying interns, especially when the internship involves little training and mainly benefits the employer.

Many employers say the Labor Department’s six criteria need updating because they are based on a Supreme Court decision from 1947, when many apprenticeships were for blue-collar production work.

Camille A. Olson, a lawyer based in Chicago who represents many employers, said: “One criterion that is hard to meet and needs updating is that the intern not perform any work to the immediate advantage of the employer. In my experience, many employers agreed to hire interns because there is very strong mutual advantage to both the worker and the employer. There should be a mutual benefit test.”

Kathyrn Edwards, a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute and co-author of a new study on internships, told of a female intern who brought a sexual harassment complaint that was dismissed because the intern was not an employee.

“A serious problem surrounding unpaid interns is they are often not considered employees and therefore are not protected by employment discrimination laws,” she said.

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