Home > General > The Labor Department’s Investigation of Unpaid Internships

The Labor Department’s Investigation of Unpaid Internships

With the United States economy slowly emerging from a prolonged recession and many employers still hesitant to expand their workforce due to the cost, many students rely on unpaid internships or clerkships to gain experience.  However, the federal Labor Department is setting its sights on employers that offer these types of work opportunities because unpaid internships are often in violation of the mandated minimum wage standards.  While the Labor Department has stepped up its investigations, it often has difficulty finding students that are willing to step forward and report a violation has occurred.

The students are often worried about finding future employment and don’t want to negatively impact any prospective employment relationships that they have gained through their internship by reporting a violation.  Another problem that arises for students is that they are often not considered employees at the company where they are conducting their internship and employment discrimination laws do not apply to them.  To read the details click here.

So, what does this all mean to students?  As I see it, the current crackdown by the Labor Department on employers is both beneficial and detrimental to students.  The crackdown is beneficial in the sense that student interns that are putting in the work deserve to be paid.  It doesn’t matter that the student is probably doing the internship more for the experience and the possibility of future important.  The student is still putting in honest work and deserves to be compensated.  On the other hand, the crackdown is detrimental because more and more employers may rid themselves of an internship program.  They will not longer invest in teaching students because it is an expense that is not necessary, especially during a time of economic uncertainty.  How this is all going to shake out is anyones guess.

  1. cmh
    April 7, 2010 at 9:37 am

    According to that article, many of these “internships” don’t involve learning anything at all, unless wiping door handles all day to prevent the spread of swine flu (one intern’s job) has become a valuable job skill and I just haven’t noticed. If these are the types of positions that companies are hiring interns for, then I’d be happy to see the DOL crack down on them, even if it means eliminating the position. If a company isn’t willing to pay for the work, then it shouldn’t offer the position, and it definitely shouldn’t label the position as an internship for the sole purpose of skirting labor law and exploiting students.

    Colleges should be ashamed of themselves for posting these “internships” on their campus job boards. The DOL has specific standards for unpaid internships. The employer can’t just call a position an unpaid internship and qualify. Many of these jobs don’t qualify. Their really a form of indentured servitude. You pay your time now doing menial work that doesn’t give you any real job skills for the opportunity to potentially be considered for a position with a company that has no problem exploited vulnerable students.

    These unpaid internships also discriminate in favor of wealthier students, excluding lower income students who can’t afford to go a summer without a paycheck. So the companies get free labor in violation of the law and throw road blocks up that prevent economic mobility. I for one welcome our new DOL overlords.

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