The Debate of Unpaid or Paid Internships


The debate of unpaid or paid internships have become really heated, with the most recent development being Wendy Williams (or should I say Lionsgate) who was slapped with a class-action lawsuit by a former intern. The claims, he (Anthony Tart) and other interns were entitled to payment under the New York and federal labor laws, for duties he stated included getting coffee, garbage disposal, dish washing and picking up supplies. Internships across the US has been the valued norm (paid or unpaid), for college grads or those seeking a career change to garner experience or decide what area of career interest is best for them. I must disagree with the critics, unpaid or paid internships are both mutually beneficial - they both create an opportunity to build a network, gain on-the-job training, as well as the opportunity for a full-time position.

Remember the scene in the original Karate Kid? Wax on, wax off!

My internship experience was with the infamous Norma Kamali at their flagship location. Though it was an unpaid internship, it was to me like someone said, "going to University for free, and reading from the professors notes." I took every opportunity I had to learn from employees in the lowest to the highest position. And that's what internship is all about! The opportunity to be in a setting where you have a closer perspective and the ability to learn and take notes from the one's doing it. Do I agree with taking disadvantage? No! However unpaid internships offers the same value as paid internships - the difference, when you subtract the money you'll be left with the pupil who is in it for the love of the game.

Considering the possibility of unpaid or paid internships

Whether you are an employer or a potential intern, here are 6 tips to know if the offer should be an unpaid or paid internship. Keep in mind that if all the factors below are met, then an employment relationship does not exist, hence no pay.

  1. The tasks at hand should be similar to training given in an educational environment as opposed to the actual operations of the business.
  2. The experience should be for the benefit of the intern.
  3. Regular employee should not be displaced by the intern, but work by supervision.
  4. The employer should gain no immediate advantage from the intern's activities, whose actions may at times obstruct the employers progress (The intern receives a benefit while providing no meaningful gain).
  5. There should be no entitlement to a job for the intern at the end of the internship.
  6. There is a mutual understanding that there is no entitled wages for the internship.

You can read the full fact sheet for Internship Programs Under The Fair labor Standards Act here.

While I believe the Department of Labor guidelines are in good faith to protect interns... I believe they are actually decentralizing the value and therefore hurting internship programs, as most companies have cancelled or is reluctant to take on interns.

What are your thoughts on the topic of unpaid or paid internships?

Graphic by Nicole Williams, quote found here