In honor of my daughter landing her first internship, I
thought I'd go through once again an issue that comes up every summer. Many
internships that are unpaid are exploiting young people for free labor instead
of providing a meaningful learning experience.
If your internship is more about scut work and less about learning, you are
probably an employee who needs to be paid, not an intern. Here are some top
signs that your unpaid internship is really a job that should be paid:
The Department of Labor has been cracking down on illegal unpaid
interships for several years. If your employer screws up, they may owe you
wages, overtime, liquidated damages that equal the wages they failed to pay,
and your attorney's fees. Here in South Florida, we also have some counties
with wage theft ordinances that can even triple the amount you're owed. If your
internship isn't what you thought it would be, have until the end of the
statute of limitations (generally 2 years under the Fair Labor Standards Act)
to wait to see if you get the job you thought you were earning. If you sue, you
can sue on your own behalf and on behalf of all the other interns who didn't
Even if you sign a waiver saying you agree not to be paid, it won't hold up if
the internship is really a job, so talk to an employment
lawyer in your state about it.
Internships can get you college credits, contacts, community service hours for
high school, and maybe even a paid job down the line. That's what the good ones
are supposed to do for you. Just beware the ones that turn you into slave
labor. Before you accept an internship, get a clear understanding of your job
duties, whether you'll be paid, and what the employer expects of you.
If you aren't going to be doing something that puts you on your career path,
turn it down. If you find out that it wasn't what you expected, get out of
Time is money. That's what they say in business. Make sure you get your money's
worth out of your internship. If not, wouldn't you rather spend your summer
taking classes, getting a paid job, or texting your friends?
If you have a terrific internship, great. I wish you the best. If not, talk to
an employment lawyer about your rights.
See more employment law posts on Donna
Ballman's blog, Screw You Guys, I'm Going Home.
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