Employment Law Legal Topics

Free Labor Isn’t Free

The difficult job market has led many recent college and law school graduates to seek unpaid work as interns to gain experience and maybe even a paying job down the line. Law firms and other businesses, also reeling in this economy, are open to bringing on this free labor. In fact, a recent New York Times article quotes Lance Choy, director of the Career Development Center at Stanford University, as seeing “definitive evidence that the number of unpaid internships is mushrooming.”  But, as the article also indicates, federal and state regulators are coming down on employers that exploit free labor.

The boils down the new Federal regulations to this point:

unpaid clerks should benefit from the experience, not employers…Internships should be used as a means to educate someone, similar to a trade school program. Interns should not be used to displace regular workers, and employers should not acquire “immediate advantage[s]” from the intern.

The New York times article notes that California also requires that interns receive college credit as a condition of being unpaid, but this requirement “does not necessarily free companies from paying interns, especially when the internship involves little training and mainly benefits the employer.”

The bottom line: free labor doesn’t come freely.  Check the new federal regulations and California law before bringing on an intern or advising your client to do so. Also check out §5.19 of CEB’s new book on California Wage and Hour Law on volunteer and intern labor.

Tell us what you think. Are you considering taking on interns this summer?

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