You Get What You Pay For, Unpaid Internships Can Cost You Big

You Get What You Pay For, Unpaid Internships Can Cost You Big

Remember life as an intern? Spending long days making photo copies, researching online, running errands and trying to prove to a company that you had what it took to become a permanent part of their team. Well, before you get all nostalgic, let me be the first to tell you that days like that are gone. If you still believe interns are simply doe-eyed, go-getters who you can pay in experience (rather than actual money)… you are sadly mistaken. Interns have wised up and brushed up on labor laws all across the country and companies are paying dearly.

Frustrated WomanThe Devil Wears Prada     

The practice of using unpaid internships in companies has slowly been slowly declining for years, but recent lawsuits in the fashion and publishing world have forced industries to rethink or end their unpaid intern programs. In 2013, a group of 7,000 interns won $5.8 million in back pay from Vogue, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker after filing suit that stated their internships violated labor laws. A similar suit was filed and won by interns who worked for Fox Entertainment Group on the movie Black Swan and most recently 40 interns filed suit against Mary-Kate and Ashley Olesen’s Dualstar company for wage violations.

Companies have responded to the changing intern environment by either ending their intern programs like Conde Nast did after the lawsuit or by paying interns at least the legal minimum wage as the NY Times has done.

The Rules of Engagement

I know what you’re thinking: but, I’m an entrepreneur/freelancer/creative/blogger and don’t have the funds to pay an intern. Besides, I am giving them an opportunity they wouldn’t normally have. I get you. You probably have the best intentions, but the Department of Labor has provided pretty clear guidance on the very limited times when unpaid internships can be offered. They have a six criteria test for determining if an internship is in violation of labor laws. The one that you pay most attention to is:

The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.

In other words, if someone can be paid to do this job you shouldn’t be using an unpaid intern. There aren’t many tasks left in the world that someone doesn’t get paid to do, so you probably should bite the bullet now rather than risk a lawsuit later.

Happy Black Woman 4Avoid A Lawsuit

If cash-flow is really a challenge, you might have to prioritize your tasks and be really efficient with your paid intern’s time. No one said you have to have an intern work full-time if you can only afford a part-time worker. The point is simply not to violate their wage rights while they are helping you out. Be prepared to pay at least minimum wage for each hour they are working for you and pay attention to the overtime and required break requirements.

If you think you can’t afford the cost of a paid intern now; you definitely don’t want to find yourself trying to explain that to a judge later.

à bientôt

Charell Star | A Girl In A Dress

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