Intern problems

Unpaid and low-paying internship programs deserve to be scrutinized.

Over and over, undergraduate students find valuable internship experiences in a variety of fields.

From College of Science and Engineering students taking semesters off for co-ops at engineering firms, to journalism and marketing students finding internships with local presses and advertising agencies, having work experience in the field can be a significant résumé booster.

But with increased opportunity comes increased risks. A number of exploitative unpaid or low-paying internship programs are being exposed by present and former interns who claim their employers are not abiding by federal labor laws. The United States Department of Labor lists six requirements for legal employment of an unpaid intern. The criteria were used to decide the recent lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures, when a federal judge ruled that Fox had violated federal minimum wage laws by not paying interns working on “Black Swan.” The Labor Department requires that the employer not directly benefit from the intern’s duties, and that both the employer and the intern have a mutual understanding that the intern is not entitled to wages.

Condé Nast, publisher of Vanity Fair, Vogue, GQ and many other magazines, is involved in an ongoing class-action lawsuit brought by two former interns, one at W Magazine and the other at The New Yorker, claiming they were paid less than a dollar an hour, the New York Times reported in June. Last Wednesday, Condé Nast closed their internship program.

An increasing number of young professionals are rightly taking a stand against unpaid or unfair internships. We hope that as a result, employers will create more meaningful internship programs.

When looking for valuable career experience, students should look for opportunities that are of educational value and should ensure that all federal labor laws are followed.