InternsGetting an internship is getting harder and harder, but never more has it been needed as much as today. Many College and University students want some experience before they start working, to have something that looks good on their resume and get contacts. Almost all internships are unpaid so you often have to choose between the experience of an internship and the money from a job. That’s not always an easy choice. And that means that internships aren’t a feasible option for people everyone, especially for people with limited resources. As many enter the last third of their summer interning period, it’s a great time to assess your experience and the company.

It’s a double-edged sword. An internship get you contacts, references, knowledge and maybe even an job offer… But is that enough in lieu of cash? Recently there have been many articles about interns - traditional and non-traditional career changers - fighting for nominal stipends and wages in exchange for their work, but there’s a bit of lingering fear in these complaints. Maybe there won’t be as many internship’s offered if a growing number of interns say “No” to being used. And not many interns would say this to their employers, but in the long run if you get the experience you want from the internship – you win. It’s better with a good and meaningful internship that is unpaid and meets the Department of Labor’s criteria for fairness than one that doesn’t meet them. The danger of an invaluable internship is that you waste your time, and time is money!

So what does the law say about this.

The Department of Labor have outlined six criteria that should be met by interning hiring employers, if the internship is at a for-profit organization. If they are not met, you are entitled to minimum wage according to the Fair Labor Standards Act, and also time and a half, if you work overtime.

  • The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the employer’s facilities, is similar to training that would be given in school.
  • The internship experience is for the benefit of the student.
  • The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under the close observation of a regular employee.
  • The employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. Occasionally, the operations may actually be impeded.
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time in the internship.

So your unpaid internship should be a learning experience and not an employer who is using you as free labor. It should be closer to a learning experience, like in school, than to a job. This could guide you if you aren’t sure about where your internship fits in : Top 6 Signs Your Unpaid Internship Should Be Paid If you’re internship actually is a job contact an employment/labor lawyer in your state NELA and they could guide you in the right direction. You could also contact the Department of Labor for more help.

More information:

DOL’s criteria for unpaid work – Fact Sheet

If you are want help to get your internship classified as a paid instead of a paid internship -


This post is brought to you by LawHelpNY intern Alice Odeen a visiting exchange student from Sweden at St. John’s University studying Law.