Is Your Unpaid Internship Legal?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In recent articles that have been getting a lot of buzz, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal took on the topic of unpaid internships...and suggested that many unpaid internships may, in fact, be illegal.

We wanted to find out more. And so we're talking with our work contributor Beth Kobliner about what kinds of internships are legal, which aren't, and whether they're even worth doing.

And Lisa Lovett shares insights from her work with unpaid interns and the companies that hire them. Lovett is the Internship Coordinator with the University of Colorado – Boulder’s Career Services Office.


Lisa Lovett

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer


Beth Kobliner

Comments [4]

helene from New York

Beth Kobliner was refreshingly honest this morning when discussing interns. It's true that internships seem to be the domain of the grads who can afford to live without making money. And I agree that complaining about getting coffee or packing boxes reeks of entitlement. Certainly there are legal issues, and companies should be well aware of them, and try to stay within the law. But using an internship to get your foot in the door and gain experience for your resume can only be beneficial in this economic climate. Any work experience is better than none, when it comes to future employment.

Apr. 20 2010 03:50 PM

Unless they follow very specific educational guidelines, unpaid internships are illegal--period. I was disgusted by Beth Koblinar's rationalization of such a practice. What follows when unpaid internships "employing" adult labor become the norm? I especially worry about the future employees if and when Ms. Koblinar and like-minded children of privilege become employers. As the mother of a daughter in college, who works, does exceptionally well in school, and has received grants for research, etc., I would NEVER recommend that she submit to an unpaid internship. Outrageous!

Apr. 20 2010 12:43 PM

When I was in college, everyone asked did I have an internship. Back then, I thought ALL internships were unpaid--I didn't realize that paid internships even existed. So I never bothered--my summer jobs were to help pay the next year's tuition. I'm sure I'm not the only one who couldn't afford to work for free. For a long time I felt really bad that I hadn't had an internship--were people going to think I was a slacker? Was I going to not be able to find a job because I hadn't had an internship? In the end it didn't matter. Just about EVERYBODY had a hard time finding a job after college.

At any rate, I think many are largely pointless anyway. My friend interned--unpaid--at a large news corporation. Since she had to move to another state for the duration of the internship, it actually cost her money (rent, etc.). Sounded pretty swanky, and I asked her if her internship meant she'd have a better chance of being hired at this place after graduation. "No, not really," was her reply. And having the internship on her resume didn't help her chances any at getting hired anywhere else either.

No doubt this isn't true of all internships, but it's something students need to ask themselves before blindly getting on the internship bandwagon.

Apr. 20 2010 08:57 AM
ann O'Shea from New York, NY

It was shocking to hear Beth Kobliner be so dismissive of the practice of employers using unpaid workers even when it violates the law. The law provides essentially that if the employer gets more benefit than the "intern," the individual is an "employee" and covered by minimum- wage/maximum-hour laws as well as OSHA, labor-relations, and antidiscrimination laws. By using unpaid "interns," employers benefit not because they do not pay such individuals but because they get to take a pass on all laws intended to protect workers. As long as employers can get free, unregulated labor, why would they pay someone and have to get involved in all those messy regulations? Moreover, it is not just college students who are being taken advantage of by the practice. College graduates are increasingly told that they "must" accept unpaid internships for a year or two to be considered for real, paid jobs. And why not just keep getting new "interns" when the old ones have to quit in order to earn a living? And, Beth is wrong that "internships" are limited to "glamor" industries. Unpaid "internships" are increasingly being used in government agencies as well as in all segments of the economy. Why is the concept that people should get paid for their work so yesterday?

Apr. 20 2010 08:13 AM

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