What to do

Here are a few suggestions of what to do to the fight the tendency of employers not to pay their interns.


Say it out loud
If you turn down an internship because it is unpaid, say so to the employer. If they don’t know that the salary is an issue, they might never realize it. If you’re (really) lucky, they might then offer to pay you. If they don’t, at least you will have sent the right message.

Do not apply on unfair internships
Start by looking for proper jobs and paid positions. There are more than you might think. There’s plenty of energy to be poured in applications for paid jobs. If you start by looking for unfair internships, you risk finding one.

Add language from the Fair Labour and Standard Act
If you take an unpaid internship that’s actually legal, then make sure that your contract mentions the six rules of the FSLA. This will make sure that you receive proper supervision and that you are not used as free labor.

Tell employers even if you don’t apply
When you find an interesting internship that is unpaid, write to the employer to tell them that you would be pleased to apply if the job was paid. You can even attach your CV to show them what great people they’re missing on.

Report your employer
In the USA, by calling your local Department of Labor, you can report your employer and keeping your privacy at the same time. You answer a few questions and they take care of the rest. Read the experience of an intern here and here.

Report offers for unfair internships
A fun way to discourage unfair internships is to flag the Craigslist postings that offer them. They are illegal after all.

Tell your story
Have you had a good/bad experience that’s worth sharing? Write us and we’ll publish it on this blog. Noteworthy themes are: “I had the nerves to ask for a fair salary and got it”, “I complained about the menial tasks of my credited internship and it all changed”, etc. You can also go on site specialized to receive your reviews such as InternshipRatings.com or YouIntern.com.

See five more suggestions from Schneider & Rubin, a law firm that deals with unfair internships.


Pay your interns
It’s that simple. Offer them a good salary, the equivalent of an entry-level position.

If you make it clear in your communications that all jobs at your organization are paid, you will gain the respect of potential employees and more. Your peers will hear and read your statement, forcing them to reflect upon their own policies.


14 Responses to What to do

  1. spirofrog says:

    Excellent comments, I posted it on our Spiro – Blog on http://www.spirofrog.de

    Keep up this Spirit!


  2. anonymous says:

    I would like to leave an anonymous comment. There is a site dguides.com which uses interns to build ALL of the content on the site. Not only do they write every article and blog post, but they also edit each others articles. I am fine with a site having interns help out, but this is over the top. Interns sign up to do articles for each city, then write 1-4 articles a week. Is it okay that the whole site is comprised of intern writing? Isn’t that free labor? Ads for internships at dguides.com are advertised on craigslist.com and various freelance writing outlets. I do not know what to do to report them. People get paid good money for writing, and teaching people not to get paid for 1+ pages of work is just not fair.

  3. ExIntern says:

    To report an unfair internship, call your local department of labor. You may want to quote the Fair Labor Standards Act. Maybe that asking to talk to the people in charge of minimum wage enforcement could help.

  4. tony longo says:

    Sounds like a great idea to send to all our jobs off China, or some other country…. Oh… after being on top for so long, you think we will keep high wages here in the USA when we do not make anything here? How do you get skilled workers…. INTERNSHIPS! People learn job skills and training so they can be apart of the USA work force…. or you can move to somewhere else where they have paying intern jobs. You are not getting that too many people have their hand out, and do not know anything about business and work, if you did, you’d be helping people find work, and not in sighting people to complain! YES you have the laws posted! So if people do not obey them, DON’T TAKE THE INTERNSHIP! Al internships are for the Interns, if they do not get anything form their experience, then why take the position? If interns are doing all the work, they are not interns,and can SUE the companies that lied!

  5. ExIntern says:

    I think you got a fairly good understanding of the situation at the end of your comment. Some companies do lie when they advertise unpaid jobs as “internships”. The law is on the side of the employee.

    • JulieD says:

      Re: The law is on the side of the employee.

      Not when it’s not enforced. Show me ONE example of an employer who was cited by the DOL for employing unpaid workers, and paying said workers while on the job. I have not seen even one case reported, enforced and PAID.

      I got as far as Sec. Hollis’s office herself last year – her secretary called me back, but refused to talk further when I offered to have a newspaper reporter call her back for the record. Suddenly she stopped answering her phone or replying. Lip service only – trust me- NOTHING is happening re: enforcement.

      • JulieD says:

        PS: re:

        Even third parties can file a lawsuit against an employer that offers unfair internships.

        File a lawsuit for a 3rd party? really? Have you tried that? I have. The ACLU isn’t interested, and otherwise, it’s EXPENSIVE to file a lawsuit.

        and re:
        In New York City, the Foundation Center can help you find a potential source of funding for your internship.

        Funding for your corporate internship is legally supposed to come from your employer – it’s called wages.

  6. JulieD says:

    In the summer of 2010, I received a personal call back from a senior official in the CA Dept of Labor, and he *very curtly* told me himself that: the state of CA did not and would not pursue enforcement of unpaid corporate internships unless and until the feds actively enforced same. Period. Apparently, the CA Dept of Labor prefers to keep costs low for employers, at the expense of workers being legally paid.

    This was AFTER further telling me they “might” follow up on a intern’s reporting their OWN internship – only. So, you’d have to call out your own boss, while you were working there unpaid. THEN you’d have to wait for all the months/ years of legal wrangling, and being outed as a whistleblower. You can’t even send the D/ o/ L information on ads posted by named corporations, or unpaid internships you witness in your office, etc.

    Tell me any of that’s fair or legal.

    And now it’s a year after all those articles in 2010, outing the US DOL for not enforcing, and Sec Hollis et al swearing to enforce the law? What enforcement?

  7. Steve says:

    Hi, okay i’ve just been reading this after searching for help online after this morning i’ve had a major issue. I’m a qualified and experienced motion graphic designer and i’m on an internship only pays a small amount to cover ‘expenses’ at a relatively large marketing agency. Basically, i am livid! my line manager said right in front of me to someone else about outsourcing someone and his exact words were ‘try that intern guy, at least he can be a slave to someone for £100 a week’. I got the position after my partner had previously worked for them for 9months! on just £100 a week. Just because even with our degrees and experience it’s a difficult industry to get work doesn’t mean we should be subjected to this. The same line manager had previously told my partner to her face that she was only there because she was cheap. I don’t know but I think they must be on the edge of breaking some laws. We both work very hard and are very dedicated to what we do but we are repeatedly knocked down and taken advantage of.

  8. […] you are unsure whether the internship you’ve applied for is legal, the Blog Unfair Internships can help, […]

  9. Ernest Craig Sanne says:

    I’m serving in an unpaid internship that my school, Oregon Institute of technology, told me was required, I have to serve 540 clinical hours before I’m allowed to graduate, the school, more accurately the advisor, makes contact with internships and then places you and you have no choice or say in the matter and if you decline it then you will not pass the course, period.
    My first day on the internship I was to make contact with the manager but she was not there and nobody was aware that I was arriving, the comments I received were, in a snide voice “we didn’t know you were coming” and then they told me just go ahead and sit over there, which was likened to sitting in the corner, until the manager arrives. I arrived at 7 AM and the manager wasn’t due in until 10:30 AM so for 3 1/2 hours I sat in the corner without one person asking me who I am, where I’m from, and hardly acknowledging my existence.
    I’m going to school to become a sleep technician and I have no hospital or clinical experience so this internship, they call it clinical studies not an internship, is a requirement. I spent the first two weeks only talking to one person who was a newly hired manager still trying to find his balls, they walked all over thus guy, he was fairly nice but when he wasn’t around I felt like I was a pedophile at the school PTA meeting. Once I completed all of the requirements of learning safety, rules and protocols I begin the night shift which is what sleep technicians normally work, there are staff however to handle daytime studies and other clinical services.
    My night shift went quite well the lady I worked with was very pleasant and very friendly and within two weeks I was doing the job with very little supervision, although there are many things that this lady did not know that she should’ve known and rather than watching the patient she spent most of her time on her laptop watching movies, conspiracy movies and prepper videos, she believed the government would day come and take her guns away, as overweight as she was she maintained that she knows Krav Maga and used to be an MMA fighter (eyes rolling) I gave the standard replies of wow thats so cool.
    I completed 460 hours and I only had 80 hours left to go when my advisor at school told me, “I forgot to tell you that 180 hours are required to be served in the daytime, to learn the day operations”. I completed 100 hours to many during the night shift but I’m OK with that however, starting tomorrow January 2, 2018 I begin the dayshift with those very rude people again, eight hour shifts, four dsys a week for six weeks unpaid.
    While I was working on the night shift I had brought in some supplies of my own, we have to hook up the patients with electrodes and head wires and there are certain items that Sleep Tech like to have and use for themselves, my wife is a sleep technician so she provided me with some very nice equipment, I came in one evening to find half of my stuff missing with a bunch of replacement junk that is worthless, dirty, and not something I feel comfortable using on a patient. My wife had provided me with twist ties, similar to the kind used for wrapping bread packages but these are made specifically for sleep technicians and they are much stronger with a very thick plastic, for a bundle of 50 it cost her $27, these are the items that were missing, and then when I got to the lab where we monitor our patients there was a note that said, “do not use twist ties on the wires because they cause electrical impedance”.
    First thing I did was contact the company that provides the electrical equipment we use and I asked specifically if this would cause impedances, his reply was, “no, in fact these are the preferred way of bundling head wires”.
    I should probably mention that my previous job, I was a private investigator investigating for the public defender so I know how the law works and theft according to Washington state law where I live is, depriving someone of their property regardless of the dollar amount.
    I contacted my advisor and copied in the manager of the sleep lab regarding this theft and I didn’t get a reply for about three days, these are my days off, my advisor finally replied and told me, “are you sure you want to make a fuss and lose your internship over some twist ties”, wow what kind if person is this, now I feel like the bad guy for mentioning my personal property was taken. I was going to call the police department and have them investigate, which would’ve been very easy considering the person admitted to throwing away my supplies, my personal supplies that were kept in my personal area and the culture is that nobody is supposed to ever touch your supplies.
    Long story short, the manager told me that this person had just gone through a death of her father and she was very sorry and it wouldn’t happen again so rather than risk losing my internship I just let it all go, what bothers me is the reply from my advisor at school what if I was a girl and some guy had touched my leg would she say the same thing, would she say, do you want to risk internship over one little touch.
    I am not looking forward to working the day shift with these people, they are very rude, they don’t carry a conversation nor do they ever start one and they are very cliche amongst themselves.
    There were 10 patients that I took care of that should’ve been handled by a paid employee, in a normal night shift these patients would not have been scheduled because they have two patients per night per technician and we had three patients and sometimes for patients at night with only one legally registered and certified technician so they clearly broke Washington state labor and industry laws by allowing me to do this work, there is even one morning that the dayshift person (a girl promoted to manager because the new manager quit already) forgot to set an alarm so she was running late and the lady I was working with had a doctor appointment so they left me, the unpaid intern, all alone with a patient which is also very illegal and could probably shut down the clinic if the AMA knew about it.
    I really didn’t have a point to my long comment that Im posting I was just researching how to handle being treated unfairly and I came across this website. If any of you were planning to do an unpaid internship I would take the advice of this website and not do it, look for a job or ask for money it’s too late for me and I only have six weeks left so for the next six weeks i’ll be the dog that gets kicked around every day.
    I want to fight for myself but Im broke, stressed, I need to finish so I can move on and it would be problematic in a time I need to focus on my last quarter of schooling, I bet many people feel the same, is it right to not fight for yourself. Ive fought things like this my entire life and I always end up regretting it even when I’ve won, I almost always win but it’s exhausting.
    If I could sue for half a million I’d do it but goid luck right.
    I better go to bed now it’s going to be a long day tomorrow.

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