The Six Most Important Legal Factors In Unpaid Internships 2

The Six Most Important Legal Factors In Unpaid Internships


Unpaid internships have been firmly in the spotlight in recent years. Images of students working for nothing on the edge of poverty have led to a number of legal cases in the US. While unpaid internships were once seen as a rite of passage, the fact students are readily suing their employers has meant companies have to tread carefully. 

To make an unpaid internship legal, it needs to be a position that advantages the trainee. If it benefits the employee, it’s considered illegal and the student must receive the minimum wage.

We go through six of the most important legal factors that make an unpaid internship legal.

1.      Educational Environment 

The training given within the internship must resemble the same training that would be given in an educational environment. In other words, it can’t involve sitting at a desk shuffling papers. It needs to involve someone teaching them best practices and proper work processes. 

2.      The Internship Must Benefit the Intern 

This is a difficult one to prove because it’s highly subjective. What the employer needs to show any judge in a court scenario is they had the intention of benefitting the intern. In other words, the intern’s value to the company is zero. The company is doing this to help the intern learn for the future. 

3.      Employee Displacement 

No intern should ever displace an employee. They should be working under existing staff members. This applies equally to full-time staff and part-time staff. Since the intern isn’t classified as an employee, their presence should have no influence on the people who are considered employees. 

4.      Immediate Benefit 

The company must not gain any immediate benefit from an employing an intern and having them carry out regular operations. In other words, at no point should they be working at a post on their own like a regular employee. They should only operate a post for training purposes and must be under constant supervision. 

The law further states, in many cases, that the company might even be hindered by the fact they’re working with an intern. 

5.      Job Offer 

The intern isn’t guaranteed a full position at the end of the internship. In other words, no employer should promise any position upon conclusion of the training period.

They can consider them for a full-time role, but it must never be a promise. Otherwise, this means the intern is essentially an employee in training, and is therefore entitled to a wage. 

6.      Wages 

Both the employer and intern understand there are no wages involved in the internship. Paid internships must pay at least the minimum wage, and in this case they wouldn’t technically be an intern. Instead, they would be a trainee or a contractor.

This doesn’t cover expenses.

The company can still opt to pay for travel and lunch expenses for the intern, but this must be clearly stated in writing. In the case of large firms, they might even pay for temporary accommodation, should the student have to travel exceedingly long distances to attend their internship. 

Author Bio –

James Whitaker is the creative head behind this article. He is a successful entrepreneur, a passionate philanthropist and an ardent blogger. He says he only works with Boteler, Finley and Wolfe Law Firm and their talented lawyers as they have taken him out of many tricky situations.  

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