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Should I be Paid for My Summer Internship?

Internships are almost always a win-win. Employers get needed help and potential future hires, while the intern gets valuable work experience that looks great on a resume. It may not be common knowledge that legal guidelines stipulate whether an internship must be paid or unpaid, but there are. Therefore, anyone considering an internship should know if their position qualifies for a paycheck.

After years of study of internships, the U.S. Department of Labor realized that many employers take advantage of interns by not paying them. While interns often volunteer to work for free, they should not do this if they legally should be paid. According to guidelines under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA):

  • Interns in a qualifying paid position must earn at least the federal minimum wage for internships in the for-profit or private sector.
  • They also must be paid overtime.

What Criteria Do Interns Have to Meet to be Paid?

The FLSA specifies criteria to determine whether the intern is a trainee who does not need to be paid or an employee that must be paid at least the federal minimum wage:

  • Intern does not replace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff.
  • Employer and intern both clearly understand there is no expectation of compensation during or at the end of the internship.
  • Internship is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment despite occurring in the employer’s facility.
  • Internship accommodates the intern’s schedule and commitments, such as school attendance.
  • Internship benefits the intern and their formal education; it ties in coursework or provides academic credit.
  • Internship is limited to the actual time the intern is provided beneficial learning.

If the internship meets all the criteria above, the FLSA does not consider it to be an employment relationship. Employers are then exempt from paying the minimum wage and overtime. While the criteria are open to interpretation, employers who do not want to pay their interns must provide skills and opportunities that truly benefit them.

Moral and Ethical Considerations

While the law provides legal guidelines regarding payment for internships, there are moral and ethical considerations too. Many studies show that paid interns are loyal and happy interns. They are often more enthusiastic, often hoping to be hired. Interns will also feel valuable if they are earning a paycheck and be more willing to contribute. Additionally, paying is good for the employer as well; they can set the intern’s schedule and the number of work hours.

Ethical considerations come into play as well. Employers must consider the intern’s responsibilities. Are they getting an authentic educational experience with a valuable mentor-mentee relationship, or are they making copies and getting coffee? If the intern’s work contributes in any way to the company’s successful operations, they should be paid.

An employer who expects an intern to work many hours for free or does not give them a valuable educational experience should not hire the intern to begin with. Interns should not be considered free labor. Instead, they should be regarded as contributing members of a work team that deserve to be paid for their time and effort.

The FLSA guidelines regarding internships are not easily enforced, and some employers are not even aware of them. Many interns are willing to work for free. However, when they do, the employer has the moral responsibility to give them a significant learning and skill-building experience that will benefit them in their future careers.

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Protect Interns’ Rights to Fair Pay

Interns and employees have rights under the law. Wage and hour issues are common among those who contact the Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. We have helped numerous employees get fair and just treatment in the workplace. For an initial consultation about your case, contact us online or call us at 215-574-0600. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.