The Legality and Ethics of Volunteer Internships

Source: David Yamada, Minding the Workplace, Workplace Institute Blog, November 23, 2009

A lot of people are working for free these days. Many are students who are securing unpaid internships as a possible investment in a future career. Others are unemployed and want to gain experience and contacts, so they are volunteering their time and talent. They are heeding advice by career counselors and columnists to offer to work without pay as a way of opening doors to new jobs and careers.

In addition, it’s very likely that many of these arrangements — especially the common practice of unpaid internships — violate minimum wage laws. The Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal wage and hour statute, does allow exemptions to the minimum wage for those who meet “trainee” status. However, one of the requirements for trainee status is that the employer “derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees or students, and on occasion his/her operations may actually be impeded.” This is an awfully tough standard to meet. Most interns provide an “immediate advantage” to the employer, even if the work involves relatively unskilled labor.
See also:
The Employment Law Rights of Student Interns
Source: Connecticut Law Review, 2002

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