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.