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Major: International Economic Relations
Status: Workygirl

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Unpaid Internship…is it a Good, Legal Option?
Olya Bezvushko

Nobody wants to work for free, yet thousands upon thousands of college students do it every year. They’re not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts or because its for a good cause (ok, many students do take non-profit internships). They do it for “experience.” Many internships offer fantastic learning opportunities, but more often than not the best internships also happen to be paid.

     1. If the training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in a vocational school;
     2. If the training is for the benefit of the trainee;
     3. If the trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation;
     4. If the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees and, on occasion, the employer’s operations are actually impeded;
     5. If the trainees are not necessarily entitled to employment at the completion of the training period;
     6. If the employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

This is the law. If any one of these six statements is not true about a given internship, then the interns are considered “employees” and are subject to the monetary provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. That means that the interns are entitled to minimum wage and overtime compensation.

Some are really illegal.  Some aren’t. It depends upon quite a few factors. By definition unpaid internships are not illegal, but they must meet certain criteria to avoid violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The decision to go unpaid as an intern is mostly personal. Still, if an employer can’t figure out how to put you to good enough use to make more than minimum wage off of your labor, is it really a company that you want to be interning for?

When you’re looking for an internship, you need to ask yourself, “will I benefit enough from the training and experience that I gain through this internship to make up for the forgone wages?” If the answer is yes, then you should apply.

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