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Unpaid internships: Illegal?

We had an interesting discussion at our morning meeting about unpaid internships. I don't know about you, but I've had the experience of working an unpaid internship. I was just out of college, couldn't find a job and needed to fill my time.

Now there is word that federal and state regulators are investigating and fining employers for violating minimum wage laws. Unpaid internships are OK if they comply with six legal criteria, but some employers are taking advantage of interns by using them for free labor.

The New York Times recently ran a great piece about the issue:

Many regulators say that violations are widespread, but that it is unusually hard to mount a major enforcement effort because interns are often afraid to file complaints. Many fear they will become known as troublemakers in their chosen field, endangering their chances with a potential future employer.

The Labor Department says it is cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly and expanding efforts to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.

To see the federal unpaid internship guidelines, click here to read the PDF document.

Have you had experience working as an unpaid intern?

About the author

Daryl Paranada is the associate web producer for Marketplace overseeing all daily website content and production, as well as producing multimedia features -- including the popular economic explainer series Whiteboard -- and special projects. Follow him on Twitter @darylparanada.
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I've had the privilege of paying for an internship. In order to earn a teaching credential student teaching is required; pay for a 3 unit course, can't have a paying job because you are busy working for free, the costs associated with traveling to the job site and to the university have to also be factored in to the cost of working for free. The government wants to fix education by raising standards on teachers...24,000 layoff notices were issued to California teachers in March.

This would make me so happy! I was a scholarship student at UCSB from a small town, meaning 1. I couldn't have afforded to go to University in the first place without my scholarship, and 2. Moving in with Ma & Pa after graduation was my only choice-- unless I could get a job somewhere. However, it was impossible to compete with all the privileged kids getting free rent from their folks who were willing to work for free, even if I was more qualified. Making corporations pay for their interns will help level out the playing field, just a little.

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