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Are Unpaid Internships Legal?

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With a scarce number of job openings for young workers, The New York Times reports that there's a growing number of unpaid internships around the country. Yet many students and young workers might be unaware that most unpaid internships with for-profit employers are illegal and are in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

And while many unpaid interns might be scared to report the company that they're working for, the federal Labor Department says that it's now cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly. The Labor Department is also 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," Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department's wage and hour division, told New York Times.

University of the Pacific reports that there are six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be legally unpaid. First off, the internship should provide training that would be similar to the training given at a vocational school. The training should strictly be for the benefit of the student. The U.S Department of Labor also states that a student should not displace a regular employee, and should work under the observation of a regular employee supervisor.

The employer who provides the training should essentially derive no immediate advantage from the activities of the student. Most importantly, an internship should be considered a learning experience rather than a job.

Any person who feels that they've had an unpaid internship that didn't meet the standards of the U.S Department of Labor should contact a Houston employment lawyer about filing a claim. You could be entitled to compensation from the employer who mis-classified you as an intern.

Related Resources:

  • Offering Unpaid Internships? Tread Carefully! (FindLaw's Free Enterprise Blog)
  • When Do I Have to Pay the Minimum Wage? (FindLaw)
  • See a Houston Employment Lawyer (FindLaw)

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