You’ve already heard how the feds are going to be cracking down on companies that misuse unpaid internships. Now — perhaps just to make sure we know they’re not kidding — the Department of Labor (DOL) has released new rules on the subject.
The DOL’s issued a fact sheet outlining six scenarios under which it’s OK to use unpaid interns. Here’s the list, verbatim:
- 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 intern 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.
It’s pretty clear the DOL’s going to be skeptical of any unpaid internship program — check out this language in the fact sheet:
Internships in the “for-profit” sector will most often be viewed as employment … Interns … who qualify as employees rather than trainees typically must be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over 40 in a workweek.
What’s the big deal?
It’s hardly a subject of national economic import. So why’s the DOL making so much noise about unpaid internships?
Some say it’s about redressing a long-standing wrong: Interns are loath to complain about such things for fear of endangering future employment opportunities.
But the cynics say it’s simply a convenient vehicle for the DOL to send a message to employers: Expect increased government enforcement and oversight under the Obama administration. We could be in for a bumpy ride.