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Fairness in Unpaid Internships?

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When we say the word internship, what are your first thoughts? If they are recollections of frustration and stress due to an empty wallet then take a gander at this post because you’re not alone.

Unpaid internships may very well be a divided topic of conversation, but to Robby Slaughter, a principal with AccelaWork, they are the most unfair aspect of the modern American workforce. In fact, he discusses the ethical and legal implications of unpaid internships on the workplace fairness blog, Today’s Workplace. It’s an intriguing post with a distinct point of view. Because, when it comes to debating what is right in the world of internships, Slaughter is far from bashful:

We all adhere to the same agreement: if you offer people a chance to contribute in a way that is valuable and if you define requirements around that work, they deserve to receive fair compensation for their efforts.

Unbelievably, there is evidence that half of all internships go unpaid in our country. Yet, this lack of compensation is actually considered illegal. In fact, the only way to employ an individual as an intern and go without paying them is to meet the following government regulated criteria:

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

While this criteria is clear enough in definition, it’s hard to ignore the fact that adhering to all the strict regulations is close to impossible. Which in turn begs the question: why are so many interns still rendering work for free?

Internship

© Flickr user Sean MacEntee

Let’s be honest, going unpaid isn’t the only financial problem for interns. In my experience for instance, not only were my pockets empty, but I was actually spending money! Driving back and forth to the office everyday wreaked havoc on my gas card! In the end, my morale was low, my motivation was decreasing by the second and I was paying for lunch in coins. Like many of my peers, the only driving force in my diligence was the promise of a resume builder. But is that even enough anymore?

Bottom line, for the amount of time, energy and creativity interns provide companies, it only makes sense to recognize their contributions. By doing so, the increase in overall economic growth and productivity will be seen. Not to mention the increase in satisfaction and motivation among hopeful interns who, like full-time employees, deserve the positive reinforcement of appreciation. Slaughter’s advice: “If you put an intern’s efforts to use in promoting your company, creating your products, or delivering your services—then that intern must be paid.”

When it comes time to find the brilliant minds of tomorrow, we’d venture to guess that a fair and fruitful internship program is a great start to endless possibilities in business. So, if your company has interns, take a moment to consider what can be gained by such a beneficial employee investment. You just might find that compensating them accordingly creates an environment set for a better, more productive future.

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Ashley Lee

Ashley Lee

Ashley has been working with the AccelaWork team since 2008. She is a communications expert with a background in corporate work, and a graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in Public Relations. She lives in the greater Indianapolis area with her husband and four children. Ashley enjoys jewelry, fashion, and coffee.
Ashley Lee

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