Standard profile of an unpaid intern is a female
According to a recent report, the typical unpaid intern is a white female working for a small non-profit institution. She has at least one extra job and her internship violates both federal labor laws and federal work-study laws.
The makeup is not coincidental, but intentional. It is hard to find a better recipe for worker exploitation.
Americans have a tradition of “standing up for the little guy.” Films such as Rudy and Hoosiers inspire us to cheer for the little guy. On a more serious note, laws such as the Civil Rights Act help protect those who were previously defenseless. With all this back-story, and with all the laws that protect women, older workers, disabled workers and many other people in the workplace, one might assume that the Department of Labor actually cared about unpaid interns in New York and was actually doing something to at least investigate the matter.
But Oscar Wilde has already told us what happens when we assume, and it involves breaking down that word into three sections.
Donning and Doffing: The time it takes getting dressed in work clothes
The general rule for all paycheck deductions related to pursuing back pay for work uniforms is that the uniform must be for the benefit and convenience of the employer. In practical terms, the uniform must be something that can only be worn at work; for example, a set of hospital scrubs or a priest’s robe.
Common schemes include inflating the uniform’s value – deduct $50 for a shirt that has already belonged to two other people – or requiring you to care for the uniform yourself without being paid to do so.
Illegal Paycheck Deductions
“I knew the government needed some help paying off the national debt, but I didn’t think I was going to have to pay it all myself.”
- A dispirited worker’s reaction to his first paycheck after the January 2013 fiscal cliff
There are times that it is good to be curious and learn new things, but a paystub review is not one of these times. Know your rights.
Before deducting anything from your check, the employer must give you written notice. All states have a notice provision that is similar to the New York law. Taxes, insurance premiums and retirement plan contributions are examples of legal deductions from most or all paychecks. There is a finite list of other lawful deductions. Contact an experienced wage and hour attorney if you see any deduction other than for taxes or insurance, or if your employer deducts funds from your paycheck without giving you prior written notice.
What are the future job prospects for unpaid interns?
To borrow a quote from the late, great Darrell Royal: Only three things can happen to a former unpaid intern in New York, and two of them are bad.
A few former interns do find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There are many quasi-inspiring stories from former unpaid interns who later became O’s (CEO, CFO, COO and so on) . Most of these stories have a number of common elements: long hours, menial tasks and substandard working environments.
Most of these stories have something else in common: they happened before 2001.
California Unpaid Intern Rights
California may soon join Oregon as the only jurisdictions to recognize the fact that interns are people too, at least in terms of workplace rights.
On December 4, 2013, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, announced that she would introduce a bill in January 2014 to protect unpaid interns against workplace discrimination. The bill should face little opposition in blue California, and should attract more than a few co-sponsors in the wake of the Lihuan Wang case earlier this autumn.
Transcript of Interview with the John Gambling Show on the Topic of the Future of Unpaid Internships
On December 2, 2013, founder of Intern Justice, Maurice Pianko was a guest on the John Gambling Show. The segment can be listened to in full here. Below is a rough transcript of the segment.
John Gambling Podcast
This is a podcast from NewsTalk Radio 710 WOR.
John: Have you noticed – have you followed at all the continuing stories about interns and internships? Most recently Conde Nast has eliminated the program completely. Other large employers have various rules and regulations as pertain to interns. Summer interns, obviously, have historically something that people are looking for. They want to get exposure, get a foot in the door to various industries. Well, it seems like it’s pretty much going to go the way of the dinosaur possibly. And we’re going to talk about it here this morning with Maurice Pianko. He’s an attorney and founder of Intern Justice. Maurice, good morning. How are you?
Maurice: Good morning, John. I’m good. How are you?
John: Fine, thank you. Now you specialize in intern law; is that correct?
Maurice: That’s correct. I’ve filed over a dozen lawsuits against employers on behalf of unpaid interns around the country.
Unpaid Interns and Sexual Harassment Laws
Aside from the financial benefits of being an employee (e.g., a paycheck), there are legal benefits. Various federal and state laws protect employees from discriminatory treatment based on gender, age, race and a host of other factors.
The gulf between unpaid interns and paid employees is not limited to financial compensation and the lack thereof: unpaid interns surrender most of their civil rights before they even receive their intern ID badges. Specifically, interns cannot sue when they are victimized by workplace sexual harassment.
The Six-Point Test for Unpaid Interns
Faced with a loss of business following the dot-com bust of the late 1990s, and 9/11 shortly thereafter, the suits in the early- and mid-2000s knew they had to do something to avoid flying coach to business meetings or buying a – gasp – used Escalade as opposed to a new one. Someone in a board room somewhere in corporate America came up with a pretty good idea: reclassify entry-level employees as “interns” and trim labor costs. Why did the minimum wage increase three times between 2006 and 2009 while a very pro-business George W. Bush was in the White House? Many were not earning the minimum wage, so companies did not care how much it was.
Since the Department of Labor was not enforcing the six-point unpaid intern test at the time (more on that later), the good idea was actually a really good idea. Diligent young interns would gladly make coffee (don’t forget the extra sugar this time), clean file cabinets, send faxes and do “other tasks as assigned” in exchange for a line on a resume and a little exposure to their chosen professions. Industries that offer a hint of glamour – fashion, media, sports, government – were the first to jump on board the worker exploitation train. Judging from Condé-Nast’s reaction to its illegal internship program, these industries may be the first ones to jump off the train as well.
MLB San Francisco Giants Being Investigated For Allegedly Running an Unpaid Internship Racket
The average major league baseball player earns nearly $3.3 million per year. Many major league teams, including the San Francisco Giants, rely heavily on unpaid interns to keep the wheels turning. What is wrong with this picture?
The Giants claim they have a “highly sought-after” internship program that offers “real-world experience”. The Department of Labor would beg to differ, at least regarding the latter element:
- Just two months ago, the Giants paid over a half-million dollars in back wages to clubhouse employees who earned $55 per day, no matter how many hours they worked.
- The labor exploitation spills over into the front office and may be problematic throughout the league: the Miami Marlins are also under DOL investigation for running an illegal internship program.
Many sports fans are attracted to unpaid internships because of the possibility that they may rub shoulders with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, or even Matt den Dekker and Dallas Keuchel. Others are drawn to sports internships because they dream of being the wheeling-and-dealing general manager, with the latest iPhone, a corner office and a group of interns to lord over.
While a clubhouse intern may see the baseball stars that appear on SportsCenter, any sort of personal interaction is probably out of the question. Baseball players generally do not socialize with “the help.”