N.Y. case: Unpaid interns should be paid for tasks

14 Jun

In Interns: the new indentured servants? Moi wrote:

When one thinks of interns, one usually thinks of an eager young undergraduate trying to make a favorable impression on a future employer. Steven Greenhouse reported in the New York Times that the The unpaid Internships, Legal or Not

The question is whether employers caught in a vice between declining revenue and rising costs are using internships as a source of labor without having to comply with labor regulations? 

Steven Greenhouse did a follow-up article which reported about new labor regulations from California. In California Labor Depart. Revises Guidelines on When Interns Must be Paid Greenhouse reports in the New York Times about the California rules.

Greenhouse explores an even more troubling trend in his New York Times article, With Jobs Few, Internships Lure More Graduates to Unpaid Work:

Melissa Reyes, who graduated from Marist College with a degree in fashion merchandising last May, applied for a dozen jobs to no avail. She was thrilled, however, to land an internship with the Diane von Furstenberg fashion house in Manhattan. “They talked about what an excellent, educational internship program this would be,” she said.

But Ms. Reyes soon soured on the experience. She often worked 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., five days a week. “They had me running out to buy them lunch,” she said. “They had me cleaning out the closets, emptying out the past season’s items.”

Ms. Reyes finally quit when her boss demanded that she also work both days of a weekend. She now works part time as a model. Asked about her complaints, the fashion firm said, “We are very proud of our internship program, and we take all concerns of this kind very seriously.”

The Labor Department says that if employers do not want to pay their interns, the internships must resemble vocational education, the interns must work under close supervision, their work cannot be used as a substitute for regular employees and their work cannot be of immediate benefit to the employer.

But in practice, there is little to stop employers from exploiting interns. The Labor Department rarely cracks down on offenders, saying that it has limited resources and that unpaid interns are loath to file complaints for fear of jeopardizing any future job search.

No one keeps statistics on the number of college graduates taking unpaid internships, but there is widespread agreement that the number has significantly increased, not least because the jobless rate for college graduates age 24 and under has risen to 9.4 percent, the highest level since the government began keeping records in 1985. (Employment experts estimate that undergraduates work in more than one million internships a year, with Intern Bridge, a research firm, finding almost half unpaid.)                 

“A few years ago you hardly heard about college graduates taking unpaid internships,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president at the Economic Policy Institute who has done several studies on interns. “But now I’ve even heard of people taking unpaid internships after graduating from Ivy League schools.”

Matt Gioe had little luck breaking into the music and entertainment industry after graduating with a philosophy degree from Bucknell last year. To get hands-on experience, he took an unpaid position with a Manhattan talent agency that booked musical acts. He said he answered phones and looked up venues. Although he was sometimes told to make bookings, he said he received virtually no guidance on how to strike a deal or how much to charge. But the boss did sometimes ask him to run errands like buying groceries.

“It was basically three wasted months,” he said.

Mr. Eisenbrey said many companies were taking advantage of the weak labor market to use unpaid interns to handle chores like photocopying or running errands once done by regular employees, which can raise sticky legal questions.

Eric Glatt, who at age 40 interned for the movie “Black Swan,” is one of the few interns with the courage to sue for wages over the work he did.                                               http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/business/unpaid-internships-dont-always-deliver.html?hp

Before accepting an internship, the potential intern should ask some questions. https://drwilda.com/2012/05/06/interns-the-new-indentured-servants/

Danielle Kurtzleben reported in the U.S. News article, Unpaid ‘Black Swan’ Interns Get Court Victory: A New York court rules in favor of unpaid interns, but don’t expect the practice to die anytime soon:

The days of doing menial office work for free may soon be in the past. This week, a judge ruled in favor of two former unpaid interns. Judge William H. Pauley III declared that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated the law by not paying former interns Eric Glatt and Andrew Footman. Labor advocates are hoping it will be the start of a sea change in the way employers offer internships. But that shift could be a long time in coming. 

Glatt and Footman filed suit in 2011 against Fox Searchlight, saying their internships on the production of the 2009 film “Black Swan” violated labor laws. The interns did work such as filing, making coffee, getting signatures on documents, and assembling office furniture, and claimed that they should have been paid for that work under the Fair Labor Standards Act. 

That law lays out six criteria that an internship must meet in order to be unpaid. Among those are the stipulations that the internship must be for the benefit of the intern and must not displace other employees. In addition, the employer of an unpaid intern should get “no immediate advantage” from the intern’s presence – in other words, the intern ought to be there to shadow employees and learn, but not to do productive work. 

The judge found that the “Black Swan” internships fell far from meeting these standards. The decision states that, while Glatt and Footman “received some benefits from their internships” in the form of résumé fodder, references and production knowledge, the interns got the short end of this deal: “Searchlight received the benefits of their unpaid work, which otherwise would have required paid employees,” the judge wrote, adding that “the defendants were the ‘primary beneficiaries’ of the relationship, not Glatt and Footman….” 

This is the first decision of its kind favoring unpaid interns and classifying them as workers, says Juno Turner, an attorney with Outten & Golden LLP, the New York law firm that argued the case, and she believes the effects could be far-reaching…. 

That may imply that many people have been employed unlawfully as unpaid interns, perhaps without themselves or their employers even realizing it. Questions over the legality of these internships have been years in the making. As a Labor Department official put it in a 2010 New York Times article, “If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law.”

The Fair Labor Standards Act has long had clear criteria for unpaid interns, so how did employers get into the unpaid-intern habit? One attorney says it’s a function of employers not understanding the law, instead opting to simply do what other employers are doing…. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/06/13/judge-hands-down-rare-victory-for-unpaid-interns

Case Western Reserve University has an excellent set of questions in the article, Questions to Ask an Employer:

Describe the type of work I would be doing or the types of projects I will be working on.

  • What makes this organization unique?
  • What are the short-term and long-term objectives of the organization?
  • How is the training or orientation program for new employees structured?
  • What characteristics would the ideal job candidate have for this position?
  • Can you tell me about the people/positions I would be reporting to?
  • What do you see as the most challenging aspects of the position?
  • When and how will job evaluations take place?
  • When can I expect to hear from you about my candidacy?
  • What have other [co-ops, interns, new employees] done at the company in the past?
  • How many [co-ops, interns] are typically employed by the company at one time?
  • What percentage of your [co-ops, interns] are hired after graduation?
  • What are the areas of anticipated growth for the company?
  • What is the structure of the company and how does this department fit in?
  • What are the opportunities for advancement?
  • What is your (the interviewer’s) position in the company? (Ask for a business card)
  • Does the company assist with relocation [if necessary]?
  • What is the next step in this search?
  • When can I expect to hear from you about my candidacy?
  • What skills or attributes are you seeking in a candidate that I have not addressed?


In a tight economy, people are desperate for just about any type of opportunity. Don’t let this desperation play into the avarice of an employer who sees the potential intern as unpaid labor with no thought of providing either training or a path to a permanent position.

This seemingly innocuous issue is a real sleeper.

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