The summer is an ideal time for college students to have internships with potential employers after college. While the experience is paramount for the student (and to the employer, to a certain extent) most of the internships offered are unpaid.

But are unpaid internships legal?

This obviously depends on the specific situation, but employers should be mindful of state and federal laws that protect employees, especially interns. Unpaid internships are fraught with peril if they do not comply as employers could be subject to a host of wage and hour violations. This post will highlight a few of the criteria used by the U.S. Department of Labor to determine if an unpaid internship is in compliance with federal law. 

Training comparable to classroom – In order to be unpaid, the internship must center on training that similar to (or an extension of) the education given in a classroom environment.

The intern must benefit from the job – The intern must receive school credit for the internship that will help in satisfying credits towards graduation.

Regular employees can still work – Unpaid interns must not displace regular employees, and the interns must work under close supervision of an existing staff member.

Ultimately, employers cannot circumvent federal minimum wage laws and other employee protections by simply calling workers “interns.” If you are beginning an internship program and have concerns about whether you should be paid, an experienced employment law attorney can advise you.

The preceding is not legal advice and does not initiate an attorney-client relationship.