Internships and Wages

We’ve decided to take a stance on paid vs. unpaid internships, and post only paid opportunities. There are several reasons we’ve come to this stance, including the US DOL Unpaid Internships Test US DOL Unpaid Internships Test, but mostly, to ensure that all students can afford an opportunity to gain work experience. If you’d like to learn more about our stance, we’re happy to provide more information!

More about our stance:

Paid vs Unpaid: Outside Perspectives

Paid vs Unpaid: Our Stance
For a myriad of reasons, some find unpaid internships acceptable; for a myriad of reasons we’ve examined, we don’t find unpaid internships acceptable. It is our policy to house and feature paid internships, and other paid workforce sampling opportunities (project work, part time employment, co-ops), through ColumbusInternships.com (CI.com).

We do believe in unpaid work-based learning experiences – those that originate from education, we just don’t house them on CI.com. Voluntary work-based learning experiences are one thing; masking work as “unpaid internship” to staff jobs without pay is different.

Meaningful Work Experience
When internships originate from the business (as opposed to being crafted by education and in partnership with business), the business intends to meet some need, some unmet work, and, of course, deposit some guidance and mentoring. Rarely is an internship posting originated by a business merely an artificial set of assignments designed for a student to try out their application in a workplace: indeed, businesses strive to offer “meaningful experiences,” or, real work. Therefore, since internships look a lot like part time jobs, even with an extra dose of development, they ought to, and legally, must be paid.

What about course credit?
Even if course credit is granted – which can be logistically (timing, location) prohibitive – students have to pay for that credit, which therefore, is economically prohibitive. In effect, by accepting unpaid internships, students must pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to do work. Unpaid internships exploit necessity to gain work experience, pressuring people to work for free.

What about the Law?
Legally, the question of whether internships should be paid is really: is this person an employee, or a student of my organization? In most cases, the answer is: “an employee” – mostly because business is business, and not an education institution.

To help determine that answer more concretely – and in legal terms – the US Department of Labor put together six criteria, as internships relate to hours and wages law. Overall, their statements serve to pin-point just how educational the experience is, and, how impactful it is for the business. Here are the 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.

It can be tempting to assign a free pass on a couple of the tests, especially number 3 and sometimes number 4. Number 3, “the intern doesn’t displace regular employees,” might pass because in many cases, it’s true, there’s technically, or literally, no staff to displace, when a business turns to interns to get work done.

In this case, one has to consider: if there were enough staff, someone would do that job. And so by bringing on someone to do a job that is currently not done, the intern meets a need for the organization (provides immediate value to the organization (test 4)). So, even if the intern is getting some extra guidance (or “perks”), and they’re not displacing someone’s real job, the person really looks like a de facto employee, so, they should be paid for their contribution.