Regulating Unpaid Internships
Federal and state regulators are becoming increasingly concerned with employers exploiting college students through unpaid internships, as a means for free labor, according to a New York Times article.
There has been a sharp increase in unpaid internships because of the recent economic recession. Many employers have been forced to make cuts. They have been picking up the slack and cutting costs by hiring unpaid interns. Also, there is a strong desire for many college students to pursue unpaid internships to enhance their résumés and gain valuable experience in their field.
In 2008, 83% of college graduates held an internship, an increase from 9% in 1992.
The federal Labor Department and other regulators are increasing their enforcement by investigating many businesses to determine if their unpaid internships violate a state’s minimum wage laws or other workforce laws. Some employers have already been fined for having unpaid interns in Oregon and California.
Many regulators believe that firms and other companies commit violations across the nation. However, these firms continue to get away with exploiting interns because many college students are very reluctant to report wrongdoings. Students are afraid they will quickly be labeled as a problematic, unprofessional employee, which could deter their chances of landing a job after graduation.
“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 Labor Department’s wage and hour division told The New York Times.
Leppink also said that there are several criteria that internships must meet if they are going to be unpaid. Some of these regulations are that an unpaid internship’s training should be similar to what a student would receive at a college or vocational school, the intern’s job cannot take the place of another paid position and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern. Also, an unpaid internship is likely to be illegal if it involves only mindless, unskilled, menial work like making copies or stuffing envelopes. Essentially, if an internship is going to be unpaid, the intern must benefit from the experience more than the employer.
This will not immediately affect high school students. Nevertheless, it is a positive trend that is likely to benefit them once their college careers begin. Regulators are likely to continue cracking down on employers, forcing them to pay their interns, or change the interns’ tasks and responsibilities. This will work to many college students’ advantage. However, there could be a decrease in available internships. Some companies and firms are likely to cut their internship programs entirely, rather than making them paid.