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Some unpaid summer internships may violate wage laws: Part I

Now that school is out for the summer, many students at Florida's various universities will be participating in unpaid summer internships. Some high school students may even pursue these internships as they can provide valuable experience and contacts.

But unpaid internships do not always sit right with the U.S. Department of Labor. In fact, unless the internship meets a strict set of criteria, a company may be in violation of wage and hour laws.

Many experts say that the purpose of unpaid internships is often misunderstood or abused. One employment law expert says: "An internship program is not to provide free labor and a resume stuffer for somebody. It has to be for the benefit of the trainee or the student. They are learning a skill, a craft, under the direction of people at the placement site."

Because of the weak economy, some companies are taking unfair advantage of the free labor provided by unpaid interns. These situations are often illegal. In other cases, however, employers may be unaware of the requirements of an unpaid internship.

It is a common misconception that an unpaid internship is legitimate as long as the student receives school credit. However, school credit is not a requirement, and if students are doing work in violation of actual internship requirements, they are entitled to receive minimum wage.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are six criteria which a for-profit company must meet if wants to provide an unpaid internship. We'll discuss these in greater detail in a post later this week. We'll also discuss how criteria differ in non-profit and government internships.

Source: naplesnews.com, "NetWorth: Internships usually must pay minimum wage," Kathleen Pender, 22 June 2011

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