Better for the company?

In “The Ethicist” column of the New York Times, Roger Randy Cohen, had a look at “coffee run interns“. His first sentence is illuminating:

If only “better for the company” were synonymous with “ethical,” I would have an easier job.

Some employers try to justify hiring an intern under unfair conditions because it will be good for their company, because they couldn’t afford the staff otherwise. That’s called free labor and it’s obviously illegal. Let it be clear: an intern is there for its own benefit and not for that of the company. That is why he is un(der)paid. If the company benefits, pay him and call him an employee.

This is also a good opportunity to clarify the intent of this blog. Some people feel that internships are unfair because they involve menial tasks and are boring. While this is certainly a concern, the main issue that this blog seeks to address is those internships where the work is actually very relevant, but where the employee is not paid or below the legal wage. This practice goes unchecked because the employees are called interns. That doesn’t make it fair or legal.

5 Responses to Better for the company?

  1. Joseph says:

    I interned at Fendi Store Planning and did NO architecture at all. I would make copies all day and print invoices. After being there for 3 weeks they tell me they liked how I was working and that they were considering paying me but only if I worked more hours. I was working 30 hours a week while taking 7 architecture classes, and when I would remind them about the pay they would always come up with the same excuse and said they would do it later.
    I never got paid.

    Just wanted to use myself as an example to all those who plan on interning. Try not to get big companies because these big corporations will only see you as the coffee boy and have this concept on you of being replaceable and that is never a good thing.

  2. arin says:

    Just a correction: it’s Randy Cohen, not Roger Cohen.

  3. exintern says:

    Corrected. Thanks.

  4. publicuum says:

    “the main issue that this blog seeks to address is those internships where the work is actually very relevant, but where the employee is not paid or below the legal wage.”

    And what about the people who can’t get a job doing “relevant” work because an intern is doing it instead? How does paying the intern a “legal wage” affect the labor market?

    For example, the going rate for my work is $25/hr, but I am constantly competing with interns who are doing the same work I am, reducing the numbers of hours available to me (I’m freelance). Even if an intern gets $10/hr, then she will satisfy this blog’s requirements for fairness, while totally undermining my ability to get a pay-scale that supports an adult’s needs.

    I suggest that without including considerations of the ill-effects of internships on the labor force in general, attempts to rectify the situation of interns themselves will amount to nothing.

    The only way to fair labor practices must include all laborers.

  5. exintern says:

    publicuum – Thanks for your interest. I’m afraid this blog is not meant to address the issue that concerns you. What you are describing is competition in the marketplace. You can charge more than a junior professional because you have more experience and skills and hence your services are worth more, not because you have higher needs. The so-called intern is not “doing the same work” as you do – he is, I would hope, providing a lesser service. This is how you should explain to your clients why you charge more.

    A fair internship is, in short, one where the intern receives substantial training at the expense of the employer. An unfair internship is one where the employer benefits more than it invests in the intern and pays him below legal wage. Even if called “intern”, an employee that is productive and paid a legal wage is not an intern.

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