Unpaid Internships

Department of Labor's next enforcement target: Unpaid internships

Warning: The Department of Labor says if you've got unpaid interns, odds are you'€™re breaking the law.

The DOL's Wage and Hour Division says it's cracking down on organizations that fail to pay interns properly and it'€™s 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 DOL'€™s Wage and Hour Division.

The reason this problem is just now coming to light: Interns haven'€™t been quick to file complaints — usually due to a fear of endangering their chances for future employment.

So the DOL has decided to step in for them with increased enforcement efforts.

Examples: Officials in California have already issued guidance letters to advise employers whether they are breaking the law, and Oregon regulators have unearthed numerous abuses and obtained back pay for unpaid interns who claim they were really employees in disguise.

In a nutshell, what the DOL is saying is: If your company benefits from the work an intern does, the person'€™s got to be paid.

The DOL'€™s established criteria:

  • To be unpaid, an internship must be similar to the training provided in an academic or vocational setting.
  • Unpaid interns must not displace regular paid workers.
  • An employer must not receive an "€œimmediate advantage"€ from an unpaid intern'€™s work.