The unpaid internship

A recent court decision could put pressure on employers to create more meaningful internship programs.

Daily Editorial Board

Due to a recent Federal District Court decision, the dynamic of unpaid internships offered by companies each year may change dramatically. Judge William H. Pauley III ruled earlier this month that Fox Searchlight Pictures had violated federal and New York minimum wage laws by not paying their interns.

The ruling brings to light the legal criteria that must be followed in order for companies to have unpaid interns — criteria that many students don’t know walking into an internship.

Forbes Magazine reported in April that in Walling v. Portland Terminal Co. (1947), the U.S. Supreme Court recognized an exemption to the federal law that every employee is entitled to a minimum wage. “Trainees” — the legal term for interns — can go unpaid as long as the experience provides educational benefits, the intern does not do the work of regular employees and the employer receives no advantage from the intern’s work.

Many in the media are clamoring about how this ruling could put an end to unpaid internships and could ultimately hurt students trying to work their way up the job market. It’s important to put the situation in context. According to a recent report in The Atlantic, the job market advantage of having unpaid internship experience is negligible. This is likely because there has been little in the way of quality control for unpaid internship programs. Additionally, if companies are able to hire unpaid interns as a cost-saving measure with no legal repercussions, the entire workforce is disadvantaged.

Pauley’s ruling is fair, and it will hopefully encourage employers to create more meaningful unpaid internship programs or not offer them at all. While unpaid internships can be beneficial for students, this ruling further defends intern work from being abused.