Challenging Legality of Internships

In class a few days ago we discussed that many–or most–unpaid internships the college students use to pad enhance their resumes fail to satisfy the U.S. Department of Labor’s criteria for unpaid trainee positions and should therefore be compensated positions. (For background see here, here, and here.) Almost all students who spoke on the topic agreed the system was exploitative but they were willing exploitees, willing to work for free to get the company’s name on their resumes. There was no Norma Rae ‘”Union” moment. While one student was sharply critical of these practices most accepted it without complaint and, indeed, with little apparent recognition of why I would raise it as an issue–a small reminder of the differences between students today and my college classmates. Talking about this at dinner a few nights later a friend noted that the reaction likely would have been different at, say, Bunker Hill Community College, where many students could not afford a summer of unpaid work. She noted that some interns have sued over internships that did not provide bona fide educational experiences and expected companies would soon change their internships practices. Based on my students’ passive acceptance of the way things are I don’t share her belief in the imminence or inevitability of change. Unless the change that occurs is revision of the Department of Labor’s rule to ratify most current practices.

4 Replies to “Challenging Legality of Internships”

  1. Raymond Lin

    I see all internships as an investment towards your future. Not only will a good work ethic get an intern a good reference, but also the possibility of a future paid internship or a full-time offer. As we had mentioned in class a few weeks ago, if you are not willing to do it, someone else out there will. We also brought up the topic of volunteering and referring it to an “internship” that you had for the summer since volunteering for a company normally opens up a lot more responsibilities for the individual. I personally feel that saying that you volunteered for a whole summer can sound better than interning for the summer in certain cases. If you did not get paid, why not increase your chances at an interview by saying you volunteered which may show that you have a soul. Employers don’t want someone who just works to work especially with all these volunteer initiatives now set up by companies.

    Just a few days ago, my mother told me that my brother got an unpaid internship about an hour’s drive from home. My father told him to reject this offer and just look for other options. At this point, I don’t think that there are options, but I immediately told my brother that he should have taken it; having no previous work experience, this may have been his only opportunity, but having not taken it, I don’t know how his summer will turn out. Like I had mentioned above, it is an investment because people look for individuals who have prior experience. I think that if you push aside an unpaid internship, you might just be pushing back the inevitable. You may have to end up taking one after you graduate just because you avoided it earlier and lack any work experience.

  2. Alex Greer

    “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for
    crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist
    within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” -13th Amendment

    I believe that internships fall under the scope of involuntary servitude, and thus are illegal by definition of the 13th amendment.

    Of course it is all up to interpretation of what involuntary servitude is but I believe that it fulls under two widely accepted interpretations that categories it as unfree labor, meaning to cause or threaten to cause financial harm to any person (i.e. if you do not get this internship you will not get that job with us) or deceit (i.e. deceiving the intern into believing that the internship will help them get a job with the company later on).

  3. Victoria Tavares- Finson

    With regards to unpaid internships i feel that although they may go against some laws, and compensation hsould be made, they do also provide a great benefit, it gives us a chance to see the day to day operations of a field we may be considering and also yes of course allowing us to pad our resume, which hellps alot. Im currently applying to law school and they do ask about” work expereice” , mo0st of the internships ive take in jamaica were unpaid, because its somewhat of a favor the company is doing for me by allowing me to roam their offices.

    I would probably consider myself a willing “exploitee” , soely because the benefits i feel will out weigh the cost of what the internship willl allow me to accomplish , or gain knowledge.

    I have friends however who refuse to do unpaid internships and see where they are coming from because you are devoting time and resources and most working 9 to 5, but i feel right now as a Junior in College, looking to further my education which requires me have some work expereince and loves to see” internships” on my resume, its a price im willing to pay.

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