Earlier this week, we began a discussion about unpaid internships. Two young men who worked as unpaid interns for the movie "Black Swan" have filed an open class-action lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures seeking back pay. They also want to prevent the company from hiring unpaid interns in the future.
About 500,000 Americans work as unpaid interns every year, including students and young adults here in Florida. Companies who are ignorant about the rules of unpaid internships (or simply ignore them) could be held liable for wage and hour violations.
There are six criteria that must be met in order for unpaid internships at for-profit companies to be legal and legitimate. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) pushed for that set of criteria.
However, the EPI's vice president believes that US employers are increasingly ignoring these rules and trying to save money by taking on unpaid interns to perform what used to be paid, entry-level work.
That opinion is shared by the director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. He adds that many unpaid interns are unlikely to file complaints because they are hoping to get hired by the company or are unfamiliar with the laws. Therefore, he says, companies take unfair advantage of unpaid interns because believe they can get away with it.
But some interns have the courage to speak up and fight back, as is evidenced by this recent lawsuit. If the plaintiffs win it could set an important precedent for future treatment of unpaid interns. Therefore, the case will be watched closely by EPI's vice president and others concerned with protecting fairness in the workplace.
Source: National Public Radio, "Unpaid Interns: Real World Work Or Just Free Labor?" Beenish Ahmed, Nov. 12, 2011