When must interns be paid?

With several high profile cases recently challenging the practice of using unpaid interns, many industries and companies have adjusted how they compensated interns and the work duties assigned to interns if they are to remain unpaid.

One industry still struggling with finding the right balance is the restaurant industry, especially when it comes to training new chefs. A long-standing tradition is to have “culinary interns” provide free labor and help in the kitchen in exchange for training. Some of the nation’s most sought after restaurants require that the interns work for a set period of time for free, before receiving pay. Additionally, cooks may be required to submit to a “tryout” period, where they work a few shifts for a restaurant without pay prior to being hired. As one commentator questioned, “At what point does professional training become exploitation?”

Many of the country’s best chefs started out this way – working as a “stage” (an intern) at a prestigious restaurant in exchange for food and housing in order to improve their skills, with the understanding that stages typically don’t get paid.

However, the Department of Labor has said that such arrangements often violate labor laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), by failing to pay minimum wage and overtime compensation. Industries such a restaurants and journalism have a long tradition of using unpaid internships as a way to get much-needed job skills or a foot in the door.

Regardless of the industry, several key factors determine when an internship should be paid vs.unpaid, with the deciding issue often being who benefits from the arrangement? Many times this must be answered on a case by case basis.

For more information or if you have any wage and hour questions, please contact the dedicated Georgia wage and hour lawyers at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for an immediate case evaluation.

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