Unpaid interns may fit the budget but are they legal?
Recently I’ve heard a lot of talk about unpaid interns, especially in the wedding industry. It seems anytime someone mentions the need of an assistant, whether it be an office assistant or shooting assistant, the idea of an unpaid intern comes up. As a new business that has just developed the need for assistance it is likely that there is not much in the budget for hired help, but if you have someone working for free, you may be breaking the law.
The Fair Labor Standards Act has an entire section devoted to internships and they give the “test” below to determine whether they can be unpaid or not. Basically, if the intern is going to be unpaid they need to be in an educational environment, not displacing regular employees and the employer gains no immediate advantage.
- The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
You see how your idea of an unpaid intern may be illegal now? If all the sudden you have a need for a shooting assistant and you’re thinking of an unpaid intern, be sure you can “pass” all of the tests above. The training would need to be in more of a classroom environment than actually being out in the field. You must not benefit from the skills they are “learning”. They must work right alongside current employees, not do work that you would otherwise hire employees for. You may not gain immediate advantage but rather the time spent training them needs to outweigh the benefit you receive from the work they do. The intern is not entitled to a job at the end of the internship. Both parties understand that no wages are involved for time spent.
So, if you can truly pass all of those, then go ahead and “hire” an unpaid intern. Otherwise, if you can’t say all of those items are true, then you need to hire a PAID intern. You can check your state’s minimum wage requirements and still hire college students willing to work at those wages and you’ll be certain you are legal!