May 9, 2012
The Murky Ethics (and Crystal-Clear Economics) of the Unpaid Internship

If you’ve ever had an unpaid internship, there is a distinct chance that you participated in unlawful activity.
The Labor Department has strict guidelines for unpaid interns, and every year, thousands of companies dutifully flout them. Technically speaking, internships must resemble an education rather than a job. Interns cannot work in the place of paid employees. Nor can their work be of “immediate benefit” to an employer.
Every unpaid intern I know — and every unpaid internship I’ve had — broke at least one, if not all, of these rules. And repeatedly. We worked nine hours a day or more. We shared work with salaried co-workers. We strove to provide “immediate benefit” to our employers, in the form of fetching drinks, organizing bookshelves, writing briefs, editing documents, fiddling with Excel, and presenting ourselves as free safeties of the office — happy to roam, eager to tackle something new. This is what we knew to do. This is what college students do with their summers. […]
You can blame the interns for settling for zero-pay, or even the colleges for not offering credit for vocational experience. Less than 30% of colleges offer academic credit for internships, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
But I worry the problem is somewhat intractable.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]

The Murky Ethics (and Crystal-Clear Economics) of the Unpaid Internship

If you’ve ever had an unpaid internship, there is a distinct chance that you participated in unlawful activity.

The Labor Department has strict guidelines for unpaid interns, and every year, thousands of companies dutifully flout them. Technically speaking, internships must resemble an education rather than a job. Interns cannot work in the place of paid employees. Nor can their work be of “immediate benefit” to an employer.

Every unpaid intern I know — and every unpaid internship I’ve had — broke at least one, if not all, of these rules. And repeatedly. We worked nine hours a day or more. We shared work with salaried co-workers. We strove to provide “immediate benefit” to our employers, in the form of fetching drinks, organizing bookshelves, writing briefs, editing documents, fiddling with Excel, and presenting ourselves as free safeties of the office — happy to roam, eager to tackle something new. This is what we knew to do. This is what college students do with their summers. […]

You can blame the interns for settling for zero-pay, or even the colleges for not offering credit for vocational experience. Less than 30% of colleges offer academic credit for internships, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

But I worry the problem is somewhat intractable.

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

  1. fridaywest reblogged this from emergentdigitalpractices
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  7. queeringthefightingirish reblogged this from theatlantic and added:
    Basically my summer internship in 2011.
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  14. veniadocendi reblogged this from theatlantic and added:
    Los problemas de los becarios son los mismos en todas partes “murky ethics and crystal-clear economics”
  15. breannschossow reblogged this from theatlantic and added:
    Fascinating read.
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  23. scdub said: I have to toot my own horn here and say that if you filter the comments on the site by “best rating”, I have the pleasure of being at the top of the list. I meant every word I typed.
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