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Is Your Internship Legal?

If you’re not learning, you maybe should be getting paid.

Summer is right around the corner. And summer means internships! Before you accept an internship, there are a few things you should know. From payment to credits, you need to make sure you’re getting the most out of the experience as possible and not let yourself be taken advantage of.

First off, what is an internship? At its core, an internship is supposed to be a practical educational experience. Typically, an internship is for a set period of time and with a specific goal in mind. The point of an internship is to learn how what you’re studying applies in the real world.

Internships not only give you real-world experience but also help you build your network. You go from not knowing anyone in the industry you plan on starting your career in, to not only having contact info, but also a proven track record of your work and abilities.

Paid or unpaid?

You have bills to pay. Trying to find an internship that pays is a plus. Are unpaid internships even legal? Is there a difference?computer

There is a difference. An unpaid internship is supposed to benefit you at the expense of the company. You’re getting a first-hand learning experience that can only come through working in the field. Because of the educational aspect, unpaid internships usually earn you college credit.

A paid internship is usually more of a benefit to the company than directly to you. You might end up doing work like stuffing envelopes or making copies, work that anyone could do, technically, but you’re cheaper labor. You’re not learning a lot about the field; however, you are building connections within the industry.

Obviously, an internship that is primarily beneficial to you doesn’t mean it has to be unpaid. If you can find one that pays, all the better. You learn while also getting paid, eliminating the need to find another job.

But how do you know if your unpaid internship is following the rules? The Department of Labor has a seven-factor test:

  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.

If you think your unpaid internship is failing to meet the standard to allow for you to not be paid, contact your local labor office along with the department of labor. Being young and inexperienced is no excuse to be taken advantage of. Know your rights and your worth.

What other laws should you know?

Hopefully this helps you make the right choice when it comes to taking an internship this summer. One thing to note is that even if the description of the internship meets the seven standards for unpaid internships, that doesn’t mean the practical work will meet the standard. If you feel your internship is benefitting the company more than you, ask experts for help. Reach out to a law professor at your school if no one else will listen. Internships are supposed to help you do better in your future career, not waste your time.