The Department of Labor issued a fact sheet earlier this month to help clarify what unpaid internships are acceptable.
What with all the fuss about unpaid interns lately, we thought we’d take a look at it.
The DOL writes: “There are some circumstances under which individuals who participate in “for-profit” private sector internships or training programs may do so without compensation.” The department will be looking at six criteria:
- 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. Just receiving college credit isn’t enough, the DOL elaborates: the college or university must be “exercising oversight” over the internship program. Too, the intern should be learning skills, not just doing work. “On the other hand,” the DOL says, “if the interns are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work (for example, filing, performing other clerical work, or assisting customers), then the fact that they may be receiving some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits will not exclude them from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements because the employer benefits from the interns’ work.”
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern. Every employer says this, and often it’s true (though it could be at the benefit of the employer at the same time, ha).
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff. “If the employer would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees,” says the regs.
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded. This rule is probably what will kill unpaid internships, at least in media. There are plenty of paid internships where the intern “impedes” the employer’s operations. We have all probably been impediments at one point. But no media internship we’ve ever heard of operates like this. The DOL is describing much more of a supervised “job-shadow” program rather than an internship.
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship. Can’t use unpaid internships as tryouts.
- And, the employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship. Easy one.
What do you think? Our interpretation of these regs says that unpaid media internships are basically not going to exist if companies take these regulations seriously. The thing is, these regulations have existed for years, but thanks to the NY Times article, they’re finally being paid attention to. That’s journalism at work!
photo: Unhindered by Talent