HR Magazine Guest Article: Is Your Unpaid Internship Program Lawful?

04/02/2013


Recently, employers such as Hearst Corp., "The Charlie Rose Show" and Fox Searchlight Pictures have been named for allegedly violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state labor laws by failing to pay interns who assumed significant work responsibilities. These cases should serve as a wake-up call to all employers that use unpaid interns.

Employers using unpaid interns are well-advised to review and update their internship programs and policies to comply with federal and state standards. To avoid liability, employers can protect themselves with a clear understanding of what classifies an employee as a "trainee," what the requirements set by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) mean and how to structure internships.

Recent Rash of Cases
In the Hearst Corp. case, a former intern for Harper's Bazaar claims that the publisher violated state and federal wage law by having her work as many as 55 hours per week without pay. The plaintiff claims interns "are a crucial labor force" for the fashion magazine. She said she spent her time coordinating deliveries of samples, recording the contents of sample trunks and processing reimbursement requests—activities she claims she should have been paid for. Hearst officials told the press that the company's internships are educational and conform to legal requirements. Nonetheless, the court has allowed the case to proceed on a class basis.

Excerpted from HR Magazine, April 2, 2013. To view full article, click here.

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