When Experience Pays: Paid vs. Unpaid Internships

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from social.dol.gov

Every spring, as college students nationwide prepare for finals and pull all-nighters to wrap up their spring semesters, many simultaneously ramp up their search for the perfect internship. The Wage and Hour Division understands that these “foot-in-the-door” opportunities can provide invaluable experience and have a great impact on future career paths. But when can internships be unpaid, and when must interns be considered employees? When must these programs pay not just in terms of experience, but in cold, hard cash?

Labor Department interns

Just like many college officials, parents and students, the Wage and Hour Division is concerned that interns work under conditions that are in compliance with federal law. If you in fact are an “employee,” you must be paid properly. A fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, provides criteria for what is and is not legal regarding payment for internships. Six criteria must be applied when determining if an internship can be unpaid:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern;…

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