Unpaid internships have become stepping stones for those wanting to get a leg up in the highly competitive job market. Many go to college with the intent of increasing their chances of scoring a high-paying job in the field of their choice. But once in college, many realize that their ambition is shared, so having an internship to add to their resume and give them the skills to put them above the competition has a definite appeal.
Despite its appeals, it’s not uncommon for interns to find themselves commuting and working in a job that is unpaid. Of course, with such a dynamic between student and business, many question the legality of such practices.
The Rules for Lawful Unpaid Internships
In 2018, the U.S. Department for the Division of Labor revised their terms on what qualifies as an internship:
- The intern must clearly understand their compensation rate or lack thereof: If the internship is unpaid, this must be made clear from the beginning and be given no ambiguity throughout the project’s duration.
- The intern must receive training data: As the point of the internship is to train and prepare you for the day-to-day of the working environment, the company you are working with must give you a metric for how you are doing, similar to the grades you would receive in a more traditional learning environment.
- The internship is tied to the recipient’s education program: It would make little sense for someone studying graphic design to find themselves interning at a chemistry lab. The internship is supplementary to your education and thus needs to be in an industry directly related to your field of study.
- The internship terms must conform to your academic calendar: An internship is meant to help, not hinder your educational process. The company or individual you are interning for cannot demand that you sacrifice your studies to come into the office.
- Duration of the internship is limited to the period of learning: The terms of an internship cannot demand you continue past the end of your studies.
- The intern does not displace work performed by employees: You cannot be made to get coffee, run errands, or make copies unless these things directly relate to the career you are in training for. You are not a replacement for a regular employee and cannot attend to tasks in place of one.
In addition, the California Division of Labor requires all companies to submit an outline for the proposed internship. Therefore, this proposal is functionally a lesson plan to ensure that you are effectively learning the job.
When is an Internship Illegal?
It is important to remember that this internship is for your benefit. While companies use them to find new talent for the future of their business, their job is to be an asset to you. Therefore, your education and potential opportunities come first.
If you find yourself in a position where a company has used an internship to take advantage of you or otherwise be a detriment to your future success, you do have avenues to rectify the issue.
Get Justice for an Unlawful Internship with the Help of Blackstone Law
While not all of the above criteria must be met, with exploitation comes recourse. If you are treated as an employee, you are entitled to be paid like one. If you are not learning anything pertaining to your studies, the company’s obligations as the internship provider are not being fulfilled.
If you feel you have been taken advantage of in such a way by those you trusted to aid in your education, contact our Unpaid Internship Lawyers at Blackstone Law by calling (310) 956-4054 or completing our online contact form.