January 16, 2014

Unpaid Interns at Colleges and Universities

ProPublica recently examined unpaid internships offered by colleges and universities in light of federal guidelines related to the Fair Labor Standards Act.  It found that many institutions advertise internships that blur the lines between offering students learning experiences and the institutions gaining labor benefits, particularly for positions in their athletic departments.

As non-profits, colleges and universities receive more leeway under the regulations.  However, labor attorneys and internship directors agree that schools should follow the spirit of the regulations, which includes:
  • offering internships with clearly defined academic components,
  • helping students grow personally and professionally,
  • ensuring unpaid internships are consistent with the institution’s mission, and
  • avoiding displacing an employee with an intern who performs the same work for free.
A pending legal case against Hamilton College alleges that the school’s athletic department improperly classified employees as interns to avoid paying the minimum wage.  The plaintiff, who was not a student during his internship, claims he was paid about $1,000 per month but sometimes worked up to 90 hours per week and was given additional responsibilities without a pay increase.