Are Unpaid Internships Legal?

If you are considering an unpaid internship this summer, you might wonder if this type of work is legal. After all, are employers allowed to have people work for them for free? Surprisingly, the answer is yes, but only in certain situations.

How Can For-Profit Employers Have Unpaid Interns?

In California, unpaid internships are legal as long as the employer follows specific rules and requirements. For starters, the intern must be the primary beneficiary and not the employer. The law recognizes the need for students to gain valuable work experience in their chosen field before they graduate. Thus, the law allows students to “buy” this experience with their labor.

However, your employer does not get a free pass. It must follow strict rules when hiring and employing unpaid interns. Failure to do so could violate national and state labor laws. Unpaid interns who believe their employer has used their labor unfairly can discuss their concerns with an experienced California employment lawyer.

Primary Beneficiary Test

The Department of Labor addresses the issue of determining who is the primary beneficiary of an unpaid internship using a set of rules. These rules form a seven-part Primary Beneficiary Test to help employers and interns remain compliant with all labor laws.

According to this test, an intern is a primary beneficiary if:

  1. The intern knows that the position is unpaid.
  2. Training is similar to training received at an educational institution.
  3. The internship is tied and integrated to the student’s educational program or degree.
  4. The intern only works during periods that do not conflict with academic commitments or the academic calendar.
  5. The internship only lasts for a period of time in which it imparts beneficial learning upon the intern.
  6. The intern’s work does not replace existing employees’ work while providing significant educational benefits.
  7. The intern understands that this internship does not provide entitlement to a job.

If the employer cannot meet these criterion, then they must pay the intern a minimum wage.

Unfortunately, many businesses use interns as a way to get free labor or to avoid hiring new staff. This is not in line with current California or federal labor laws. If you believe that your employer is using your unpaid internship unfairly, you deserve to have an experienced employment lawyer in your corner.

Contact a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer

If you have questions about your employment status or issues with your employer, we can help. At Kesluk, Silverstein, Jacob & Morrison, P.C., a Los Angeles employment lawyer will meet with you to discuss your concerns and help you explore your legal options. To learn more, call us today at (310) 997-4431 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a free consultation. We can help you determine if your employer broke labor laws or violated employment contracts.

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