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Lawsuit sparks discussion of legality of unpaid internships

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Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 1:13 am | Updated: 1:16 am, Fri Feb 24, 2012.

A former intern at Harper’s Bazaar filed a class-action lawsuit in regard to her unpaid work from August to December 2011.

The New York Times reported that the former intern, Xuedan Wang, said the women’s magazine violated federal and state wage laws by not paying her. Wang, 28, worked full-time for the company during her internship.

Adrienne Wells, assistant director for experiential education at UF’s Career Resource Center, said she recommends that companies offering internships follow wage and hour guidelines when hiring students.

“If there is an immediate benefit to the company, then they should pay their interns,” she said.

An immediate benefit is one the company could profit from, Wells said.

For example, if students intern at a marketing company and work with clients, then they should be paid for their work because the company could eventually profit from the client’s business.

“As far as internships go, you are not supposed to derive benefit from having your interns there,” said Michelle Bedoya-Barnett, partner at the Jacksonville labor and employment law firm Alexander Degance Barnett. “If you are deriving benefit, you have to be paying them. It is not free labor.”

She said a major red flag in the case of the Harper’s intern would be if the intern worked extensive hours. That would indicate that the intern had become indispensable.

“If you have a supervisor or are getting credit for the internship, there is a lot more leniency. It is okay to be working for free,” Barnett said.

The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art relies on endowed funding and does not have the financial backing to pay all its interns.

“There are all sorts of ways in which internships can be beneficial, even if they are not paid,” said Eric Segal, education curator of academic programs at the museum.

As a nonprofit organization, the Harn Museum can only pay about six or seven of its 90 summer interns based on merit and skill. However, the duties of paid and unpaid interns are seemingly identical, Segal said.

However, he said, there are nonmonetary benefits that come with internships, such as networking opportunities and real-world experience.

In a report by The New York Times, one of Wang’s lawyers, Adam Klein, said unpaid interns are becoming the equivalent of entry-level employees.

Barnett said, “The problem occurs when students see it as a way to get their foot in the door, and employers see it as free labor.”

Welcome to the discussion.

1 comment:

  • Lulaine2RDLegalFunding posted at 12:53 pm on Mon, Apr 16, 2012.

    Lulaine2RDLegalFunding Posts: 3

    This issue is becoming more widespread among the millenial generation for obvious reasons. The recession hit and many of the graduates and youth who were going to enter the workforce for the first time got held back and were reduced to working unpaid internships for experience. Employers took notice and had them work as free labor. This intern is one among a few I believe will come forward with the same story.

    http://www.legalfunding.com/