I’m yet to read an article that quotes a lawyer saying that unfair internships are legal. The bottom line is always the same as in this article from the OregonLive:
“An internship, to be unpaid and legal, needs primarily to be a learning experience for the intern and not something where the intern is expected to produce work product that is going to benefit the employer.”
There are some good news for the interns:
“All it takes is one disgruntled intern, or their parent or spouse or friend, to call the U.S. Department of Labor, and the company who follows this type of exploitative advice is toast,” he said. “The government is becoming increasingly aggressive in hunting down these situations.”
The article gives a very useful resource to denounce unfair internships:
The Labor Department takes complaints on the Web, in local district offices, and through the toll-free number 1-866-4-USWAGE. Officials will investigate whether internships violate wage and hour laws or other labor laws.
And a good reminder to all those who think they may just try anyway:
The bottom line: You can’t just call people interns to avoid paying them, said Rosemary Gousman, a Murray Hill, N.J.-based regional managing partner at Fisher and Phillips, a labor law firm.
It’s also worth quoting the opening paragraph of the article, a good summary of why students often fall for unfair internships:
Summer interns are ripe for exploitation. They’re desperate for real-life experience to help them land a permanent job, at a time when the economy is slowing and positions are scarce. Many are willing to work for free or below-market rates just to get a foot in the door.