If I Were Running A Company…Unpaid Internships

Last week, a federal district judge ruled that unpaid interns for the movie, Black Swan, should have been paid from 20th Century Fox’s (Fox Searchlight, to be exact) checkbooks based on the six-point test given in the Department of Labor, which are:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship;

  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship

The ruling will have a ripple effect of future unpaid internship programs, with the exception of government and nonprofits because of their special status.

To me, I don’t have an issue with unpaid internships as you’re are gaining work experience. The ruling speaks to today’s economic climate with inflation on basic essentials like food, clothing, rent, bills, transportation, and others, plus budget cuts on programs in schools; being an unpaid intern is near impossible to prosper if you’re not financially stable.

In my opinion, if a company that has a decent budget, they should at least pay the minimum to interns, which is around $1100/month. Companies view everything as a liability and will fight for the ruling. Workers might be a huge liability, but also they are the greatest asset for the company. Why risk further antagonizing your employees?

If companies want to continue an unpaid internship program, I hope they have a great following. If companies are clever enough, they should put challenges for their followers to do them. Recognition is always nice when receive by a company you admired. The winner of the challenge gets a job for the company. Then again, the company could steal that idea without taking credit and that opens a new can of worms.

Internships are a valuable experience for a person to learn about the profession and the company. I also believe people shouldn’t be struggling through the internship by worrying about the other stuff outside the workplace. I’m not asking companies to pony up money on internships. A little money makes a difference to the interns; no money makes it near impossibility to succeed in today’s workplace.

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