As an employer, it can be very attractive to use unpaid interns. Whether you are a non-profit or a business, you probably have many young workers looking for experience and willing to work for you for free. However, there are many laws about fair wages that you should be aware of before bringing on unpaid interns.
If you are a for-profit business looking to use unpaid interns, you should be aware of the test that courts use to decide whether the unpaid intern is exempt from minimum wage laws:
- The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school;
- The training is for the benefit of the trainee;
- The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation;
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;
- The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the completion of the training period; and
- The employer and the trainee understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.
Here are some more resources about unpaid interns and volunteers:
US Department of Labor: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act
This fact sheet provides general information to help determine whether interns must be paid the minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act for the services that they provide to “for-profit” private sector employers.
Illinois Bar Journal: The Perils of Unpaid Internships
This article from 2013 covers many aspects of using unpaid interns, with an emphasis on the legal sector.
US Department of Labor: Definition of Volunteers
This page gives the DOL’s definition of “volunteer,” and how they are available to public sector organizations.
Us Department of Labor: 2004 Letter about unpaid student internships
This letter was sent in response to question about a particular unpaid internship for students.