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When Unpaid Interns are Eligible to Collect Unpaid Wages

With so many unemployed entry level professionals and students, many are turning to unpaid internships to give them the experience and contacts they need to launch their career.

However, not all employers will qualify to allow interns to work without pay. The Department of Labor has 6 criteria for determining whether an individual may be eligible to participate in an internship at a for-profit company, without pay.

1. First the internship must include similar training as would be given in an educational environment.

This does not necessarily mean that the employer must provide formal training in a classroom setting, but the intern should enjoy a good deal of training during the program. Ideally, time would be split between work and training.

2. The experience of the internship must primarily benefit the intern, rather than the employer.

This is probably the most difficult part of the test for private employers to pass. The surge in the number of unpaid interns is not a benevolent phenomenon. The fact that the economy is so tough means that some employers to try to take advantage of the oversaturated job market in order to cut their own costs. A true internship should provide interns with transferable skills, rather than having them engage in less meaningful work such as filing documents or fetching coffee and mail.

3. The intern may not take over the duties of a regular employee and must work under close supervision of the staff.

An employer simply cannot lay off employees just because they know that they would be able to get unpaid interns to do the same work at no cost.

4. The employer may not receive an immediate advantage from the intern’s activities.

This means that the employer’s operations should probably be impeded from time to time due to the engagement with the intern. For example, by having to provide the intern with reviews or formal training and mentoring.

5. The internship is not contingent on a job offer at the end of the term, in other words a job is not necessarily available at the end of the term.

Although the intern should be able to receive employment at the end of the internship, the DOL wants to avoid allowing employers to require their employees to work for a short time without pay in order to get a job.

6. Finally, both the intern and employer have to both understand that the intern is not eligible to receive wages for the internship.

This is usually not the biggest issue, with so many individuals looking to distinguish themselves n anyway they can from their colleagues, many interns are more than happy to forgo pay. The problem is when the employer takes advantage of the intern’s inability to get a job by making them perform work that directly benefits the employer without pay.

If your employer has failed to pay you contact the experienced California employment attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham, LLP. Call (858) 376-7390 to schedule a free case evaluation.

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