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Unpaid Internships: Are They Subject to Minimum Wage Requirements?

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With summer approaching, companies will be looking to hire students to work as interns during summer break. While some students are lucky enough to find paid internships, many will find unpaid positions or positions with stipends that pay less than minimum wage. From the employer’s perspective, they get a worker willing to learn on the job for little or no pay because they don’t have the same skill or expertise that regular employees would provide. From the student’s perspective, the practical experience, networking and resume building may be worth more than any paid position. 

Employers must remember that the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) may apply to summer interns, meaning even unpaid interns could potentially be considered employees and thus be protected by the FLSA’s minimum wage requirements. The Department of Labor uses a six-part test to determine whether an intern is considered an employee or not. 

Misclassification of an intern can expose an employer to unintended and substantial liability. If you are thinking about using unpaid interns this summer, please call an employment attorney at our office to help you structure a program that will meet federal and state requirements to keep interns from being classified by the Department of Labor as employees. It is also important to know that courts in different parts of the country have applied different tests in unpaid internship cases, so if your company has employees outside the state of Illinois, you will want an experienced employment law attorney to review each location’s requirements.

MMR shareholder Deanna Litzenburg has nearly 20 years of experience practicing law and has been very successful in the employment cases she has worked on. She has also spoken at numerous venues regarding employment law and workers' compensation. To learn more about Deanna and her career, visit her biography by clicking here

Amy Randazzo has been a law clerk at MMR since 2015 and just graduated from Saint Louis University School of Law.

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