Market Overview

Are Unpaid Internships Illegal?


The New York Times is reporting that federal and state regulators are investigating whether or not employers are illegally using unpaid internships for free labor.

In recent years the number of unpaid internships has climbed dramatically. Officials in Oregon, California, and other states and conducting investigations and handing out fines. They believe unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws.

Complicating investigations, however, is the lack of cooperation amongst interns themselves. Many interns are afraid to file complaints for fear of damaging their career prospects in their chosen field.

In 2008, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 83 percent of graduating students had held internships, up from only 9 percent in 1992. Nancy Leppink, director of the Labor Department's wage and hour division says, "If you're a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren't many circumstances in which you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law."

Many interns questions the usefullness of their internships. One intern said she hoped to work in animation during an unpaid internship, but was instead assigned to the facilities department and had to wipe door handles each day to minimize the transmission of swine flu.


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