Internship or Indentured Servitude?

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I keep seeing freelancing writing ads for “interns” but I’m not sure they’re legitimate. Can you help?

I’ve always had a problem with companies that hire people for no pay and who use that person’s work to turn a profit. The increase in freelance “intern” job listings is a problem and it’s great you picked up on it.

There are specific laws related to hiring interns and we believe many companies that are looking for free labor are using the word “intern” instead of “volunteer” in an attempt to fool college students and others into working for free.

Basically, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an intern must meet all of the following criteria:

1. They must be trained on the employer’s equipment, specific to their procedures. Basically, they must be learning / trained like a regular student would at a school.

2. Training should be for the intern’s benefit, not for the benefit of the employer. In fact, the intern’s training will actually impede the employer’s business because of the time it takes to train them. (Remember, this is supposed to be a good-will effort on behalf of the company to help students; not an attempt to get free labor.)

3. The employer can’t receive any immediate benefit for the intern’s work. (That includes a financial benefit!)

4. An intern can’t take the place of a regular employee (or take the place of someone the company might have hired instead).

5. The intern agrees up front they won’t be paid.

6. An intern can’t be guaranteed a future job.

I don’t know about you but, after reviewing that list on a few of websites, I think most of those eliminate many, if not all, “freelance” intern positions. And, writing for a company where they publish and profit from your writing tells me you’re definitely not an intern and you should be paid like any normal employee.

If you feel you’ve been taken advantage of by a firm hiring “interns”, you can report them to the United States Department of Labor for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. You may be entitled to back pay at the federal minimum wage rate, as well as other benefits.

If you want to read the law itself, or contact the Department of Labor, click HERE.

There is an excellent article on this topic by employee attorney Jonathan Shapiro HERE.

Shel Perkins also has an excellent article on Internships HERE.

Since reading these articles last week, I’ve been notifying companies that I find running ads for interns where the job description clearly indicates they’re violating the law. Funny thing is…none of them bothered to respond to me. Writer Beware!