The Ethics of Unpaid Internships

In an economy where companies and organizations often can’t afford to hire, bringing an intern on board has become common practice. New graduates often jump at these opportunities even if the internship doesn’t include a paycheck, because paid jobs that offer relevant work experience are few and far between in this struggling economy.

But how many of these opportunities are legal? When it is acceptable to “hire” an intern without pay?

Unpaid internships must meet Labor Department guidelines, although state and local government agencies and non-profit organizations are exempt, and employers are allowed to offer college credit in lieu of pay. Here’s the six-point test for unpaid internships that the Labor Department issued more than a year ago:

  • The intern must benefit from the internship
  • The intern must receive training that’s similar to what an educational environment would offer
  • The intern must not displace regular employees, but should work closely with staff
  • The employer must not derive “immediate advantage” because of the intern’s work
  • The intern must not be entitled to a job afterward
  • Both the intern and the employer must agree the intern won’t be paid

. . .

Some universities don’t support internships that aren’t paid. While Florida International University’s College of Business Administration doesn’t go that far, associate director of career management services John Nykolaiszyn says he does encourage employers to offer a paycheck if their internship doesn’t meet Labor Department guidelines. Having paid opportunities is particularly important for students who work to support themselves while earning a degree, he says, and many of his students fall into that category. “They’re working full time. They’re going to school full time,” he says. “They’re hustling. They can’t afford to [work for free].”

. . .

Read: “The Ethics of Unpaid Internships,“ an article by USNews.com.

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