May 19 — As
summer approaches and colleges shut down for three- and four-month breaks, many
students are heading off to internships instead of vacations or traditional
summer jobs at beaches and resorts.
Students often gladly accept
low-level jobs at businesses and government agencies, hoping their enthusiasm,
drive and physical presence will give them an advantage in starting their
careers. Many are so eager that they agree to work for no pay. The National
Association of Colleges and Employers estimates that between 46 percent and 48
percent of internships are unpaid.
Legal practitioners and career
service professionals contacted by Bloomberg BNA generally agreed, however,
that failing to pay at least the minimum wage to interns can be problematic.
“If you're not really sure if you should pay the student, you should probably
pay the student,” Amy Bravo, the assistant dean of career services at the New
York Institute of Technology in New York, told Bloomberg BNA May 2.
Labor Department also has cautioned employers about the risks associated with
underpaying interns. “In a job market where competition for top positions is
ever increasing, experiential learning and the skills learned through
internships can provide an enormous advantage. But the hope for a better
‘someday' should not come at the cost of working without pay today,” Laura
Fortman, the deputy administrator for the Labor Department's Wage and Hour
Division, said in an April 11 blog post. She said the WHD “is committed to
ensuring that when interns are employees, that experience pays.”
Sentiment against unpaid internships seems to be intensifying. In a recent
spate of lawsuits, interns who worked without pay have sued several major
companies, including Fox Searchlight Pictures, Hearst Corp., NBCUniversal,
Conde Nast, Gawker and Viacom.
Labor Department has issued guidance on the subject in Fortman's blog post and
in Fact Sheet
#71, released in April 2010.
These statements explain that unpaid
internships in the for-profit private sector are legal under the Fair Labor
Standards Act only if six criteria are met. Fortman's blog explains that
interns in the nonprofit and government sectors may not have to be paid because
the Wage and Hour Division recognizes an exception for people who volunteer
their time to nonprofit organizations.
Under the FLSA, the DOL said, an
internship can be unpaid if:
“The skills learned through internships can
provide an enormous advantage. But the hope for a better ‘someday' should not
come at the cost of working without pay today,” DOL Wage and Hour Division
Deputy Administrator Laura Fortman said.
Fortman wrote in her blog that
the more productive work an intern performs at a for-profit business, the more
likely payment is necessary. The more that an internship at a for-profit
organization centers around an academic experience as opposed to the
employer's actual operations, the less likely that the intern must be paid.
The fact sheet stated that “if the employer would have hired additional
employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns
not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees.”
The Labor Department April 4 filed an amicus
brief in support of interns suing Hearst Corp., alleging they should have
been paid for their work, which was largely clerical (Wang v. Hearst Corp.,
2d Cir., No. 13-04480, amicus brief filed 4/4/14).
federal district court had agreed with Hearst that the court must examine the
totality of circumstances in determining whether the Hearst interns were
In its amicus brief to the appeals court, the DOL argued
that a “totality of the circumstances” test would “introduce subjectivity into
the analysis and invite inconsistent results.” The department wrote that its
six-part test results in “a consistent standard across the country” and
ensures “that this very limited trainee exception … is not unduly expanded,
particularly in difficult economic times when … the promise of free labor is
both tempting and available.”
National Employment Law Project also filed an amicus brief in the
Hearst case. Cathy Ruckelshaus, NELP's general counsel and program
director, told Bloomberg BNA May 7, that “unfortunately,” unpaid internships
are “becoming a more common occurrence.” She said, “It's very difficult to
take those [unpaid] positions, especially when you have a lot of educational
According to Ruckelshaus, “[u]niversities and professional
schools are starting to respond to the pressure” mounting against unpaid
internships “by tightening the requirements in their programs.”
York Institute of Technology in New York is one institution that is pushing
back against unpaid internships. NYIT's Bravo said she often tries to convince
employers to convert unpaid internships to paid internships. In some cases “we
are choosing not to promote this internship” because it does not pay, Bravo
When an employer tries to post an unpaid internship at NYIT, the
career services staff examines the job title and job description. If it thinks
a job listed as unpaid should be paid, Bravo said she will “reach out with a
phone call or an email.” She said, “I offer to help” by educating the employer
about the ingredients of a good intern program.
“If you're not really
sure if you should pay the student, you should probably pay the student,” said
Amy Bravo, assistant dean of career services at the New York Institute of
Bravo urges the employer to consider paying minimum wage or
the going rate for that type of job “if they want to remain competitive,” she
said. “Students that are in paid internships generally take it more seriously
because they think the employer takes it more seriously.” Many employers don't
realize how little it would cost them to pay their interns, Bravo said. “Eight
dollars per hour for 10 hours per week for 10 weeks isn't going to break them,”
The career services office also tries to help students
recognize when they're being taken advantage of and to visit the students at
the job site to observe their working conditions and job duties, Bravo
New York University also tries
to vet the internships offered to its students. “It has to really be an
internship for us to list it as an internship,” Trudy Steinfeld, executive
director of NYU's Career Development Office in New York, told Bloomberg BNA
May 6. Internships should “be done in a thoughtful, reflective, meaningful
way,” she said. “If it's not doing that, it's a job.”
wish to post an internship on NYU's website must click on a statement
acknowledging that they have read the DOL's internship guidelines. Steinfeld
said NYU has rejected some postings that did not “meet what we consider a
reasonable standard.” Indications that an internship may be questionable
include an incomplete job description, unspecified start or end dates, and a
request for a specific gender of student, she said.
The career office
advises students, but ultimately it is the student's choice whether to accept
or continue in an internship, according to Steinfeld. She said more than 80
percent of NYU students take a credit-bearing or non-credit-bearing internship
at some point during their college career.
An emerging trend is for
people with a bachelor's degree to accept paid internships where they work 29
hours per week for $10 per hour with no benefits, Steinfeld said.
Internships “took off” after the recession of 2007 when “people were really
looking to get their foot in the door” of a company in hopes of landing a
permanent job, she said. Employers “found a very eager community of students
and laid-off workers,” Steinfeld said. Now a sort of “market correction” is
occurring, with people starting to become wary of internships, according to
Other colleges, while
trying to protect their students from exploitation, see advantages in
internships, even if they are unpaid.
“If we were to take the stand
that we're not going to allow unpaid internships, it would hurt our
international students,” said Michelle Relyea, vice president of student
services at Parsons The New School for Design in New York. She told Bloomberg
BNA May 8 that Parsons has many foreign students who do not have visas
permitting them to work in the U.S., so they are satisfied with receiving
academic credit for their work.
In addition, Relyea said, whether an
internship is paid tends to depend on the industry. Many museums have unpaid
internships through which students get “phenomenal” work experience that helps
them get paying jobs in the future, she said.
The fashion industry,
where each year 350 to 400 Parsons students do internships, also “knows that
students need the experience” and therefore “they don't have to pay students,”
Relyea said. “The interns understand that's how to get in” to the industry,
“Internships are necessary,” Relyea said, because “employers
aren't going to hire students without any experience. I don't think we're in an
era where just a college degree will get you a job.”
give employers a chance to assess students' potential, she said. Many companies
downsized their management trainee programs during the recession, and “what's
becoming a trend is employers using an internship almost like a four-month
[job] interview,” Relyea said.
programs involving human resources professionals and college career officials
who belong to the National Association of Colleges and Employers are expected
to follow the guidelines the organization has developed, Edwin Koc, NACE's
director of strategic and foundation research, told Bloomberg BNA May 8.
In a July
2011 position statement and a list of best practices, NACE recommended
giving interns “real work assignments” related to their college major. It also
suggested designating an intern manager to run the intern program, holding
orientation sessions for supervisors and interns, inviting staff from college
career centers to visit the interns on site and conducting focus groups with
“Internships have become a bigger deal in the college
employment labor market over the last 10 years,” Koc said. Among the classes
graduating from 2007 to 2011, 54 percent of students had either an internship
or a cooperative job, whether paid or unpaid, he said. That portion grew to 58
percent for the class of 2012 and 62 percent for the class of 2013, NACE's
surveys show. A cooperative job usually lasts several months and intersperses
a stint of working in a real job with a stint of classroom learning.
Most of the unpaid internships were in government agencies and nonprofit
organizations, he said. Even so, between 30 and 32 percent of the internships
at for-profit companies are unpaid, Koc said.
NACE's surveys indicate
that unpaid interns are more likely than paid interns to perform clerical
rather than project-based work. They also show that unpaid interns would be
more likely to reject a paid job offer at their place of internship than paid
interns would, Koc said.
Franklin, the co-founder of the Fair Pay Campaign, also thinks colleges have a
responsibility to their students who participate in internships. Franklin, a
former intern, hopes to build the Washington, D.C.,-based campaign, which
began in 2013, into a national movement to end unpaid internships.
“Colleges have the power to change the culture on unpaid internships,”
Franklin told Bloomberg BNA May 2. “Colleges can stop posting ads for unpaid
internships on their job boards. Colleges can stand up and say if you want to
hire them, you have to pay them.”
Franklin called unpaid internships
“unfair.” He added, “People who can afford to work for free get ahead. People
who can't afford to work for free fall behind.”
Even when interns
accrue college credit for their work, they should be paid, Franklin said.
“College credit is not the same as pay. I cannot pay for groceries with
Franklin estimates the Fair Pay Campaign, which he calls
“a grassroots organization,” has “just under 10,000 members,” approximately 25
percent of whom are college students. He counts as members people who signed a
Fair Pay Campaign petition or signed up on the website. There is no membership
fee, but the group requests donations and receives an average donation of $28.
The campaign also is seeking grants from foundations.
The campaign aims
to give good publicity to employers that pay their interns and bad publicity
to those that don't, Franklin said. The Fair Pay Campaign has criticized the
White House for not paying its interns.
The campaign also is working
with college students who have asked for assistance. “We empower students to
pressure college career services offices,” Franklin said. He has worked with
students in New York, Los Angeles, the District of Columbia and Chicago.
“Unpaid internships are largely in big cities,” he said.
internships are most common in the creative industries—such as fashion, film,
music, journalism and publishing, Franklin said. Women are 77 percent more
likely than men to participate in an unpaid internship, he said. “Women tend
to get stuck in unpaid internships. Men are more likely to get promoted to
paid internships,” Franklin said.
Franklin added that he plans to start
pressuring the DOL to make unpaid interns a higher priority in wage
Employment lawyers commented to Bloomberg BNA that the recent lawsuits filed
by interns are causing both colleges and employers to become more circumspect
with respect to internship programs.
“I think colleges” are giving
internships “a second look,” Ellen Kearns, co-chair of the wage and hour
practice group at Constangy, Brooks & Smith LLP in Boston, said May 6. She
advises colleges to ask for a progress report while the student is
participating in the internship so they can verify the internship's value.
Employers also are “being more skeptical about internship programs” because
“they don't want the lawsuits,” Kearns said. In general, she said, it's
probably wise for an employer to pay an intern the minimum wage.
“College credit is not the same as pay. I cannot pay for groceries with
college credit,” according to Fair Pay Campaign co-founder Mikey Franklin.
If an intern sues a college under wage and hour law for listing an unpaid
internship, the student would have to show the existence of a joint employment
situation with the college, Kearns said. That would be unlikely to succeed
because colleges usually do not exercise sufficient supervision to qualify as
a joint employer, Kearns said, but a student potentially could have a breach
of contract case against the college.
Camille Olson, a partner in the
Chicago and Los Angeles offices of Seyfarth Shaw LLP, said May 7 that
businesses “absolutely” are changing their internship programs in the wake of
the lawsuits. She said some companies have abolished their internship programs,
and others have decreased the size of the program while paying the remaining
interns. Still others have improved training for managers who supervise interns
to make the internship experience more meaningful, she said.
In the past
two years, plaintiffs' lawyers have enhanced the financial appeal of interns'
wage claims by pursuing them as class actions, Olson said. However, she added,
“I don't think these cases are manageable as a group claim” because the facts
differ greatly from case to case. From a business perspective, Olson said, it
probably is not feasible for an employer to litigate a class action internship
To contact the reporter on this story: Gayle Cinquegrani in
Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor
responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at email@example.com
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