Does an unpaid internship violate laborlaws?

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Does an unpaid internship violate laborlaws?

An accountant I spoke to is unsure where he can hire me because he does not know whether an unpaid internship is allowed under labor laws. He would be creating the position special for me and I fully to consent that I am doing work only for the experience and not for pay. Is this legal?

Asked on March 31, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

It's potentially an issue. Unpaid internships are primarly for the educational experience (or credentialling) of the intern, so that part of the test would be satisfied. However, they generally--

* have to be associated with an educational program--e.g. through or in connection with a school

* the intern has to mostly learning, not doing productive work; obviously, for the intern to gain value from the experience, he or she must do something productive, but if a reasonable outsider would conclude that the "intern" is really an unpaid worker, that might be violation of the labor laws.

So, you and he should be aware that it is actually difficult to create a completely conforming unpaid internship.  If possible, it would be better if you were paid, even minimum wage and even if you only worked part time. So a 20 - 30 hour per week minimum wage job would only cost (roughly) $160 - $240/week, and if you're not bringing at least that much value to the business, then another question is, is there really anything for you to do...and if you're bringing substantially more value than that, the question is, why does he not want to pay you?


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