Career Resources

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

New Ruling on Unpaid Internships: Disaster or Delight?

Last week, Judge William H. Pauley, a federal judge in New York, ruled "that interns on two film production crews, including one from the Academy Award winning Black Swan, were employees entitled to payment with actual money. By not paying the interns, their employers violated the Fair Labor Standards Act."

To sum it up, "an intern has to receive training similar to what would’ve been provided in an educational facility and must do work primarily for his or her own benefit, not the employer's. Also, the intern's work shouldn't be the sort of thing the business would have otherwise had to hire someone to do. The work the Black Swan intern did (getting lunch, filing, running errands, making deliveries) didn’t cut it." For more details, please read full article on Slate.

As goes New York, so goes the nation? Only time will tell but the federal government has been trying to regulate unpaid internships for the past several years so it appears we are trending in that direction. Is the government really that concerned about the welfare of interns? Well, perhaps, but the better explanation might be because of the loss in tax revenue. If interns don't get paid, they can't pay taxes.

The bigger question here, however, is whether this recent development is a good or bad thing for college students seeking to gain real-world experience and to build their resumes in hopes of landing the prefect job at graduation. As a college career counselor, I always preach about the value of internships to my students, and I know I am not alone. To be honest, many students have told me that they don't mind doing an unpaid internship in order to gain experience. Shouldn't they have the right to decide if they want to work for free in order to gain experience? Don't get me wrong. Of course, I would rather see my students get paid for their efforts, but I wonder if the number of internship opportunities might dwindle due to these new regulations, particularly with smaller companies with limited resources, and whether it truly is a win for the student.

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