When Is An Unpaid Internship Illegal?

A recent unpaid intern lawsuit filed in New York raises issues that every intern should be aware of including, when should I be paid?

The New York unpaid intern case involves a former intern who worked for the magazine Harper’s Bazaar. She has sued the magazine’s publisher, Hearst Corporation, for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Specifically, she asserts that her internship violated the FLSA because she was not paid. Accordingly to the lawsuit, she worked at least 40 hours a week, and sometimes as much as 55 hours/week without receiving pay or overtime wages.

The FLSA provides that all employees must be paid minimum wage and all non-exempt workers who put in more than 40 hours in a work week are entitled to overtime compensation at a rate of one and one-half times their standard rate of pay. The laws are different for internships, allowing for some “unpaid internships,” but the work relationship must meet very specific criteria or the employer may be found guilty of violating federal and state labor laws. If you have questions concerning an internship or any other concern regarding your pay, consulting with an experienced Atlanta wage and hour attorney is important to ensure you receive the pay you deserve.

As stated in the lawsuit “unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours they work. Employers’ failure to compensate interns for their work, and the prevalence of the practice nationwide, curtails opportunities for employment, fosters class divisions between those who can afford to work for no wage and those who cannot, and indirectly contributes to rising unemployment.”

Under the FLSA a company can legally offer an unpaid internship under the following circumstances:

• the internship is educational and for the benefit of the intern • unpaid interns cannot displace regular employees • the employer that provides the internship derives no immediate advantage from the activity of the intern and may have its operations impeded on occasion.

For more information about internships or for any wage and hour question, please contact the Georgia back pay lawyers at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for an immediate case evaluation.