I decided to post this quick review of the rules governing hiring interns (specifically, unpaid interns) because it’s something I’ve chatted about lately with several professionals in different settings, and it’s really been an eye-opener in how many people are so uneducated about the unpaid intern relationship.
I have to preface this by saying that I myself DO NOT BELIEVE in unpaid internships – never ever!
I can’t remember one single instance in college where I was compelled to participate in an unpaid internship. Why? Because 9 times out of 10, the hiring organization or individual was in search of a college student because of their connection to the popular demographic and their awareness of all things cutting edge – at least in the world of marketing, technology, email, social media, fashion, consumer purchasing, nightlife, music, etc. (Notice here that the benefit was more for them than it was my own professional growth – a big no-no in the rules governing hiring an unpaid intern.)
These students, or individuals (they don’t necessarily have to be in school), are giving up their time, opinions, and insight, and in my opinion, should be fairly compensated for that. Please Note: Fair compensation does not mean free cover or drinks at the local bar. (It’s a nice perk, but should never replace compensating a part time employee for their diligent work. And you sure better not let the ALE find out that’s what you use as pay for anyone working in your establishment.)
In my research for what rules exactly govern this relationship, I came across some great, quick-read resources that I thought would be great to share as a resource for anyone else interested. Enjoy!
10 Rules for Hiring Unpaid Interns – Workforce.com
Hiring interns for free labor is a no-no
“It’s very tempting to try to come up with unique ways to get more out of your company, but the way to do it is not to bring in people who are unpaid,” said Jay Zweig, a labor lawyer at Bryan Cave in Phoenix. “An internship, to be unpaid and legal, needs primarily to be a learning experience for the intern and not something where the intern is expected to produce work product that is going to benefit the employer.”
The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not – NY Times
Obama Administration Considers Cracking Down on Unpaid Internships – Fox News
“If you can’t have an unpaid internship because you need to work, you’re poor, or your family just doesn’t have the means, you’re cut out and that’s wrong,” said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
Eisenbrey says the law does not apply to nonprofit organizations or the federal government.
But Rep. Darrell Issa thinks it should. The California Republican sent a letter to the White House asking for “a listing of the number of unpaid interns and volunteers at the White House… along with a short description of their duties.”
He believes the White House should live up to its own standard.
Watch Out: That Unpaid Intern Could Cost You – Inc. Magazine
“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 Labor Department’s acting director of the wage and hour division, told the New York Times.
Now, not every potential intern is going to be the bright young star that I made them out to be above – but I know that I sure was, as were SEVERAL of my very talented friends in college. The truth of the matter is that for most business owners, there probably wouldn’t be any desire to add them to your team if they WEREN’T benefiting you, so to be safe, treat them as a part-time employee (even if that’s simply very part-time), and for Pete’s sake: at least pay them minimum wage. Financial compensation may at least keep them somewhat motivated to stick around instead of flaking out – Heaven forbid your work offerings for them end up being boring or you suck to work for! 😉
I also realize that non-profit organizations are guilty of this – and while they truly may not have the budget for it, I highly suggest categorizing these efforts as volunteer efforts, and not marketing it as an unpaid internship. From the non-profit standpoint, what can you offer these volunteers that will help them in the long-term? Can you introduce them and allow them to work with your board for their professional exposure? Perhaps can you even offer them a spot on your board? They’re likely to be more in tune with young, able individuals who can further assist your organization, as well.