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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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