Unpaid internships: common but illegal

Another labor lawyer looks at unfair internships, another layer finds an illegal practice. Michael Tracy:

A common, but frequently unreported labor violation is the use of unpaid interns in violation of minimum wage and possibly overtime laws.  The scenario is fairly typical: a company offers an opportunity to ‘break into the business’ in exchange for the intern working for free.

He also provides his perspective on college credits in return for job experience:

Some companies try to get around the law by requiring that the internship be part of a college program.  However, there is no exception to the law allowed just because the “intern” may receive college credit.

He also has an interesting opinion on the lack of lawsuits:

The main reason that you do not see more lawsuits regarding unpaid internships is that the interns are very unlikely to sue.  In most cases, they fear being blacklisted, as they will undoubtedly need to use the internship as a reference to get any future work.

I would add that interns see their situation as a transition. By the time they file and win a lawsuit, they will have moved on to a proper job. They won’t benefit from their effort. But the law has provisions to address this problem, at least in California:

This is where California’s Private Attorney General Act comes in.  Because this law allows anyone at the company to sue for labor violations, even if they themselves are not affected by the violation, it is now possible for these companies to be brought into compliance with the law.  If you work for a company that uses unpaid interns and would like to put an end to this illegal practice, you should consider bringing a Private Attorney General cause of action.

So if you’re an employee that’s been displaced by an unpaid intern, you have the law on your side.


3 Responses to Unpaid internships: common but illegal

  1. anonomous says:

    from where do you get your info, by what law or code are you making the claim that unpaid internships are illegal.

    show the code where this is?

    are you a lawyer?

    where did you pass the bar?

    you link back to a blog written by a guy who is not a lawyer and can’t back up any claim he has made with the law in writing.

    so are you just repeating things you read in another person’s blog, or can you actually show us in the law where it is illegal


    and many other documents form the FLSA make many statements about unpaid internships and not one states it is illegal. In fact they encourage unpaid interships. and this is from a federal website.

    no one yet has been able to point to anything other than 1947 case where probabtionary employees were called interns and the supreme court handed downa decision based on probationary workers in railroads.

    no one can point to a single code in any law or a single case since 1947 having anything to do with unpaid interns, which are very common and being used right now by hundreds of companies.

    So are you just like Digg This spreading lies you can’t back up or do you have the proof?

  2. exintern says:

    This blog is about unfair internships, which are defined in the “About” section. The law in the US, as you rightly pointed out, is the Fair Labor Standards Act. It is quoted in the “Resources” section and details what makes an unpaid internship legal, which is indeed possible. The document that you linked to is about internships in general and does not seem to contradict the FLSA.

  3. jay says:

    Here’s some more info from a SanFran Chronicle reporter.

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