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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -
All work. No pay. It is common to see many motivated students and even adults take unpaid internships nowadays. However, a shocking number of these unpaid opportunities could be illegal.
There are six criteria from the Department of Labor that employers of all companies must follow in order to qualify for legal unpaid internships.
News Leader 9 met with local attorney Charles Miller to look deeper into this issue. A federal judge in New York ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage laws in 2011 after finding out that two Black Swan production interns were not compensated legally. Since this incident, more headlines and news articles about unpaid internships begin to rise.
Attorney Charles Miller in Columbus, Georgia said employers just do not realize that they are violating the Fair Labors Standard Act. Federal statute helps determine whether interns must be paid the minimum wage or compensated for the hours worked.
There is a test for unpaid interns. Six criteria from the Department of Labor must be met in order to qualify for legal unpaid internships.
1. The internship must give the intern an educational experience.
2. The internship should benefit the intern.
3. The intern must learn under close supervision of a staff member and cannot perform the work of regular employees.
4. The employer cannot receive immediate advantage from the intern's performance.
5. The intern is not promised a job at the end of the internship
6. The intern and the employer must both understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
"The most important point of the internship is that the opportunity has to be educational to the intern," Miller explained. "The intern is not just working and performing free labor; he or she is learning a special set of skills they desired to gain from the unpaid internship."
Attorney Miller also elaborated on some casual tasks many unpaid interns might have done during their internships.
"Making coffee, getting lunch for people, running errands…interns are not expected to do these tasks. At this point, they are not really interns anymore. They are actually more like an employee," Miller stated.
Attorney Miller also explained that employers need to be careful about using works that the interns created or produced.
"If an employer or a supervisor is teaching the intern something new, and the intern is making mistakes and learning, then that's an internship," Attorney Miller explained. "However, if the intern produces a work that does not need much help and it is ready to be sold or used right away, then the employer needs to be careful about using the intern's product, since it can be considered as free labor. This is when the intern needs to be paid for his or her work."
Attorney Miller said it is important for both the interns and the supervisors to understand the Fair Labor Standards Act. People need to become familiar with the unpaid intern guidelines to protect themselves from illegal issues. It is also important to realize that the burden of free labor is on the employers, not the employees or the interns, since the supervisor is charged with meeting the standard.
There are multiple people who desire any opportunity they can get. Thus, many people are even willing to intern for free and waive the pay. However, Attorney Miller said even refusing to accept the deserved pay can be illegal, and it is not up to the interns to decide.
In addition, Miller explained that he has not seen many cases on illegal unpaid internships in Columbus, Georgia. Miller believes that this is the case, because many people continue to seek as many experiences as they can get without thinking about what tasks are acceptable and unacceptable for unpaid internships nowadays.