Are Interns Protected by Employment Laws?

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Are Interns Protected by Employment Laws?

For decades now, internships have been key to finding work after college. Given how many university students participate in internships, finding and being accepted to an internship in your desired field is ever more important for being able to find employment at all. That being said, internships aren’t free from problems. They’ve been criticized in the past for offering interns little or no pay, menial labor, and few workplace protections. Keep reading to learn more about what, legally speaking, an internship is and how employment laws apply to interns. Employee or intern, you should always contact an Atlanta employment rights attorney if you want to learn more about your legal rights in the workplace, especially if you are worried about your rights having been violated.

What Is An Internship? Unpaid Versus Paid

There is a notable difference between paid and unpaid internships, beyond the money alone. Because unpaid internships do not monetarily compensate the intern, they are only legal under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) if they primarily benefit the intern. The Department of Labor uses a seven-point test to determine if a specific program really functions primarily for the benefit of the intern. If the program does not, then the worker is to be considered an employee with rights to a minimum wage and overtime pay under the FLSA.

The employer and the intern must both understand that neither party is expecting compensation. If the employer ever offers compensation, directly or even if only implicitly, the worker might be considered an employee.

  • Similarly, the employee and the intern must both understand that the intern is not entitled to a paid job offer after the internship ends.
  • The internship should function as training for the intern, comparable (in the learning offered) to an educational environment, similar to what the intern would encounter in college-based hands-on training programs
  • The internship should be linked to the intern’s college degree, either by having coursework in common with classes or awarding academic credit.
  • The internship should be scheduled around the intern’s academic calendar.
  • The internship should only last as long as it provides the intern with helpful learning.
  • The internship should complement, not replace, the work of paid employees as well as provide educational benefits to the intern.

By contrast, paid interns are employees. Employment law applies to them in the exact same way as it applies to other workers, which is to say, paid interns have the same employment rights, like overtime pay and minimum wage.

Do Paid and Unpaid Interns Have Rights in Common?

This is more of a legislative gray area, but paid and unpaid employees likely have the same rights to protection from discrimination based on race, religion, gender, age, and sexual orientation. Despite this, some states have very few laws to protect interns from sexual harassment. Considering that most interns are college students looking to enter the workforce, they represent a population notably vulnerable to this kind of exploitation, particularly first-generation and working-class college students.

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