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Are you being exploited at your unpaid summer internship?

The summer months are again upon us and many college students are likely gearing up to start a new summer internship. For today's college students, internships are considered a must in terms of gaining experience and securing a job post-graduation. While internship duties may have once consisted of copying documents, answering phones and making coffee runs; today’s interns are often expected to fulfill the same requirements as other full-time employees.

In recent years, questions have been raised about how interns are compensated. Specifically, unpaid internships have come under scrutiny. This is especially true in cases where interns are expected to produce a work product on par with regular paid employees.

So when is an unpaid internship legal and when is it considered exploitation? In an effort to tackle the legal issues surrounding unpaid internships, in 2010, the Department of Labor laid out "six legal requirements for unpaid internships at for-profit, private-sector companies." Using provisions included in the Fair Labor Standards Act, the DOL sanctioned unpaid internships in cases where an internship is more educational in nature and serves to benefit the intern.

Additionally, unpaid interns must not replace fulltime employees and an intern’s activities should not directly benefit an employer. According to the DOL, unpaid interns must also be notified from the start that an internship will be unpaid and there must be no expectations of a job offer post-internship.

College students who plan to start an internship this summer or pursue one in the future, would be wise to take note of whether or not an employer may be in violation of fair labor laws. In cases where an intern is expected to produce a work product similar to that produced by a full-time employee or where he or she believes an internship is solely for the benefit an employer, it's wise to speak with an attorney about one's legal rights and options.

Source: Cheatsheet.com, "Why Your Unpaid Internship May Be Illegal," Chloe Della Costa, May 27, 2015

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