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Are unpaid internships legal or exploitive?

On Behalf of | Oct 13, 2023 | Employment Law

Internships give students and recent graduates a chance to get real-world experience and boost their resumes.

However, whether unpaid internships are legal and ethical is a question people have argued about for some time.

Why do people do internships?

Employers planned to recruit 22.6% more individuals to participate in internships in 2022 than in 2021. The benefits of unpaid internships are clear for employers, but they also benefit interns. Internships help students learn about a specific job or industry. These individuals can use what they learn in school in a real job, learn from experienced people and make useful connections. Internships can even lead to full-time jobs.

What are the rules for unpaid internships?

The Fair Labor Standards Act in the United States sets the main rules for unpaid internships. For example, unpaid interns should learn things related to their field of study. However, they cannot do the same work as regular employees. Instead, they should complete different tasks that help the paid staff. In addition, both the intern and the employer need to agree that the internship is unpaid and does not promise a job later on. Finally, the internship should have a set timeframe.

Where does exploitation occur?

Despite the FLSA’s unpaid internship rules, some people think these opportunities are unfair. They say that many interns do the same work as paid employees, like answering phones or doing paperwork. Also, unpaid interns may have difficulty paying for their living expenses.

What are other options?

Some companies pay their interns, and some schools offer academic credit for internships. Apprenticeships often provide structured, paid learning experiences where students mix classroom learning with on-the-job training.

Internships should be fair and provide a good learning experience, and both parties should understand their conditions before agreeing on the opportunity.