by Phyllis Katz
With over two years of recession, jobs have been closed
for many, particularly new college graduates. Many of these eager graduates
are willing to work for nothing "Just to get the experience." Employers
want to accommodate friends and neighbors and offer a work experience that will
be meaningful on a resume. So a marriage begins, but it will be troubled
unless done right.
Searchlight Productions learned earlier this month, as happy as the recent
graduates were when working with Natalie Portman on the movie Black Swan,
as soon as the movie wrapped, the students realized that they may have been
wronged by not having been paid a wage. Two of the interns brought a
class action lawsuit against the production company for minimum wage and
The interns claimed that they were employees not interns. Where did the
production company go wrong (would not any sensible young person crave to be on
the set of a major movie)? It was the activities that were given to the
graduates while on the set. One of the graduates worked in accounting,
reviewing files, running errands, printing, delivering paperwork and mailing
materials. The other graduate performed office assistant type duties such
as making copies, preparing expense reports, preparing coffee, taking lunch
orders, and taking out the trash.
The problem with the arrangement is that the duties assigned were clearly given
not for a training or educational purpose. The beneficiary of the work
performed was the production company not the workers.
The U.S. Department of Labor has developed a list of criteria that must be met
for a work experience to be unpaid: DOL
Wage & Hour Division Fact Sheet No. 71 (April 21, 2010.)
Although each factor is important, the experience must be
primarily for training purposes and the beneficiary of the experience must be
the intern. The Black Swan lawsuit brings attention to the issue and
every employer should be aware of the potential liability in having interns.
Employees may also file
a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor instead of filing a
Before you agree to provide an internship opportunity, check with an
experienced employment attorney. The Virginia
Workplace Lawyers at Sands Anderson would be pleased to assist you.
Read more labor and
employment law articles at Virginia Workplace Law
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