Unpaid summer internships are a great way for students to learn more about their chosen field. Many businesses wish to give students this opportunity. Two recent lawsuits may have businesses reconsidering unpaid internships, however.
Last month, Xuedan Wang, an unpaid intern at Harper’s Bazaar in 2011, sued Hearst saying she did the work of a paid fashion assistant such as shuttling fashion samples between the magazine and vendors and other menial tasks. A similar suit was brought against Fox Searchlight pictures by two interns who worked on the film Black Swan.
Businesses can do unpaid internships right by assuring that the following six criteria set out by the Dept. of Labor are met:
1. 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;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. 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;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
MSEC also recommends that the internship be coordinated through an educational institution where the intern will receive school credit. If all of the criteria are met, an employment relationship does not exist, and minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern. A link to the DOL factsheet with more information on internship programs is on our website and here. If all the criteria are not met, it is best to hire the individual as a temporary employee.