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Some unpaid summer internships may violate wage laws: Part II

The current minimum wage in Florida is $7.31 per hour. Even if you are a student working in an unpaid internship, you may actually be entitled to receive this wage. This is because many unpaid summer internships are (knowingly or unknowingly) in violation of wage and hour laws.

Earlier this week, we wrote that unpaid internships are often misunderstood and abused. While students can receive course credit for participating in an internship, this is not part of the required criteria.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, unpaid internships at for-profit companies must meet six criteria in order to be legal and legitimate. The overarching goal is that the experience is meant to benefit the student and not the employer.

First, internships must provide training that is similar to what the student would receive in an educational environment. The experience must be beneficial to the intern, and yet the employer should derive "no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern." These constitute three of the criteria.

The reason employers should not benefit from the labor of the intern is because the intern must be supervised by staff and cannot displace other employees. Next, it must be made clear to the intern that he or she will not be paid for the experience. Finally, employers must also make it clear that the intern is not entitled to a paid position after the internship is finished.

It is important to remember that these are not simply guidelines. Unless internships meet all six criteria, the intern must legally be considered a paid employee.

Non-profit and government agencies can offer unpaid internships that do not adhere to those six criteria. However, one expert says that "if the non-profit is engaged in commercial activity, they have to meet the same standards as all other employers."

Unfortunately, many interns are unlikely to file a complaint when they know that their unpaid internship should actually be paid. But unless these students speak up, the company may continue to take illegal advantage of free labor in the future.

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

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