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.