Intern Abuse?

Posted by: Michelle Conlin on May 5, 2009

Meet the newest class of labor-market slogger: the perma intern.

The perma interns are those scarily young types moving into those cubicles vacated by layoff victims. They may even be your digital sherpa, guidling the clueless you through the dizzying terrain of social networking. It is not your imagination. They are indeed staying in the internships longer than you—or they—ever expected.

Flung into the worst labor market since the 1940s, these college-educated strivers are stuck on the lowest rung of the labor market. Making matters worse: the shriveling—and in some cases disappearing—pay. Free labor, anyone?

This has some fretting over intern abuse. “I believe that employers are taking much more advantage of interns, actually giving us work like if we were full time employees,” says an intern at a international shipping company in Miami.

No doubt many companies are keeping interns on board for longer stints to cover up for the fact that they’ve had so many layoffs. Says perma intern, Ruben Sanchez: “I believe that I have been taking on projects not normally given to interns. I have handled highly classified information from “secret” clients due to the lack of employees.”

Intern Abuse?

I asked Lauren Berger, The Intern Queen, about what was going on.

Here’s what she had to say:

“With an increased amount of layoffs and the inability to hire full-time employees, companies are turning to interns to get the work done. Companies that used to use only one or two interns are now asking me for five or six at a time.

Large employers who used to pay their interns have cut their paid internship programs and turned them into either no program or unpaid programs.

Many companies have interns running their entire social media campaigns. Students have already integrated social networking tools like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter into their everyday lives so it’s much easier to have a student run these areas than hiring a new employee that might have to first learn about them.”

Berger also mentioned another development: the rise of the “adult intern.”

Says Berger, “Adults that have been recently laid off or are trying to transition into second careers, are starting to look for internships. These types of internships have been termed “alternative internships.”

Adult interns? Scary.

Reader Comments

DanTe

May 5, 2009 6:10 PM

What kind of idiot works for free? If you're that desperate for work, McDonald's hiring.

jay

May 5, 2009 7:00 PM

These type of unpaid internships are extremely popular in Canada, but they are reserved for new immigrants who have no work experience here but need to get a head start.

graduate

May 5, 2009 7:04 PM

Is there any law/regulation that stipulates company/intern relations and protects interns against abuse/misuse? Thanks.
I'm graduating in June and I am resorting to 'whatever I can get'.
Advice?

Ace

May 5, 2009 8:13 PM

Wah wah wah. If you feel you are being abused as an intern, go get another job.

Michelle Conlin

May 6, 2009 9:49 AM

Dear Graduate:

Thanks so much for your comment.

Yes, there are Department of Labor Laws governing the use of interns. I'm pasting a primer on the issue below as well as the link.

http://career.uhh.hawaii.edu/DOLUnpaidInternshipGuidelines.php

Unpaid Internships & the Fair Labor Standards Act:
The following is posted for your information only and must not be regarded as a legal opinion. The University of Hawaii at Hilo assumes no liability for its use. Please consult with your own legal counsel before taking any actions based on the following information:

While internships come in many shapes and sizes, one of the common questions when developing an internship program is whether an employer must pay an intern for his/her work. The answer to this question lies in an analysis of the on-the-job experience that the individual will have in relation to the standard set forth under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal law which establishes the minimum wages for work performed.

Pursuant to this law, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has developed six criteria for differentiating between an employee entitled to minimum wage or above and a learner/trainee who may be unpaid. The criteria for learner/trainee are:

The training, even though it includes actual operations of the facilities of the employers, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school.
The training is for the benefit of the student.
The student does not displace a regular employee, but works under the close observation of a regular employee or supervisor.
The employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the student; and on occasion, the operations may actually be impeded by the training.
The student is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period.
The employer and the student understand that the student is not entitled to wages for the time spent training.
Not all six factors have to be present in order for the individual to be considered a trainee. The experience, however, should look more like a training/learning experience than a job.

Employers often question the fourth criterion -- that the employer derives no immediate benefit from the student's activities. This seems to contradict the contemporary practice of the use of internships by employers and colleges. To make the experience educationally valid, the same way that a student working in a college laboratory is expected to become actively involved in the work at hand, an intern is expected to participate actively in the work of the company. Several DOL rulings, while not directly addressing the criterion, seem to suggest that as long as the internship is a prescribed part of the curriculum, is part of the school's educational process, and is predominately for the benefit of the student, the fact that the employer receives some benefit for the student's services does not make the student an employee for purposes of wage and hour law.

An internship site should be able to answer "yes" to at least half the following questions if an unpaid internship is being contemplated:

Is the work that you are offering an integral part of the student's course of study?
Will the student receive credit for the work or is the internship required for graduation?
Does the student have to prepare a report of his/her experience and submit it to a faculty supervisor?
Have you received a letter or some other form of written documentation from the school stating that the internship is approved/sponsored by the school as educationally relevant?
Will the student perform work that other employees also perform, with the student doing the work for the purpose of learning and not necessarily performing a task for the employer?
Is the student working and providing benefit to you less than 50 percent of the time and/or is the student in a shadowing/learning mode?
Will you provide an opportunity for the individual to learn a skill, process, or other business function, or operate equipment?
Is there educational value to the work performed, that is, is it related to the courses the person is taking in school?
Is the individual supervised by one of your staff members?
Is it clear that a job is not guaranteed upon completion of the training or completion of the person's schooling?
Source: Rochelle K. Kaplan, Legal Counsel, National Association of Colleges and Employers, 62 Highland Ave., Bethlehem, PA 18017, (800) 544-5272 Ext. 10

Lucky to have a job

May 6, 2009 3:49 PM

It takes a loooooong time and lots of effort to get a job right out of college. It took me a solid 9 months with over 150 resumes put out (before and after graduation) to find a job that I like (and it's not even in my field of study). I tried for internships and volunteer opportunites with little succes as well.

Barbara D Holtzman

May 7, 2009 12:12 PM

Yet another example of corporate greed and the blatant unethical behavior and downright immorality of entirely too many companies (especially in New York, and most especially on Wall Street). I once asked a friend about internships for my son at his place of business, and he told me that, even though interns at other investment houses were compensated, and quite well, interns there readily slaved away during the summer from dawn until dusk just for the privilege of being able to put the name on a resume. I won’t name them, but suffice to say this company was bought out at a fire sale, rather than let it go bust, and when I see it on a resume, I wonder what it really means, what they really did, what they actually learned, and if I could even track down the reference if I wanted to. Abuse is the right term. Regular work you do for free is slavery, not “internship.” If a company can’t stay solvent without stealing labor from desperate people, they shouldn’t stay in business. And those desperate enough to put up with this should know that it isn’t necessarily going to be worth what it cost them – even though they did it for free.

whats the issue?

May 7, 2009 1:51 PM

guys guys...whats wrong with giving people a chance to learn if they want to??

for people with no experience in their desired field, having some relevant experience on the resume is invaluable; and the closer that experience is to "real work", the more valuable it is. Missing out on some junior level pay is small issue if you think in the grand scheme of the entire career. So I dont see why people are having issues with this.

the only issue would be if companies laid off experienced workers to bring in interns...but then hey, were any of us ever TRULY free from the threat of being replaced by some bright, eager young college grad? .

Lauren

May 11, 2009 12:51 PM

I have been having this issue. I just started an internship hoping to learn something in the feild of fashion pr. It seems more like manual labor to me. The entire PR dept. is made of ONE PAID PERSON and 4 UNPAID INTERNS. Infact, they don't even cover transportation. With the MTA fare-hikes just around the corner I'm unsure going to my internship three days a week will even be worth the trip.
My boss - the one paid person - sits at the desk all day. I'm sure she's doing work sometimes but other times she is most certainly taking care of personal things (ie - making invitations for her sister's party).
I've spoken to my mom about this. She is in marketing and has had interns in the past. She never treated them like I am being treated.
Honestly I am not sure what to do esspecially in this economy. Because even if I'm not really getting experience, the fact that this company will appear on my resume still looks great.

Shannon Gburzynski

May 11, 2009 2:46 PM

As an intern myself I was very interested in reading this. As for intern abuse, Im sure some companies are taking it to the extreme, but I would propose a different outlook to those interns being given more and more projects not typically given to interns. Take this as a GREAT OPPORTUNITY! You are getting experience now that some people have to work years to receive, this will build you resume much faster. I would also take it as a compliment, that even as an intern they are trusting you with more difficult work. And if you are doing an internship that is unpaid I would highly recommend looking into getting college credit for that work. That way your time is not wasted.

Kate Gordon

May 25, 2009 12:24 PM

Hi
We work with companies to develop and promote internship programs for international participants.
We have found some companies try to use interns to do menial jobs, regular work etc., however, we now insist that all the interns we place have a formal training contract from the host company BEFORE the placement starts. That way, the tasks are clearly outlined, so it can be ensured the placement is a proper learning/training experience. Also, it's important to have regular review and feedback sessions scheduled with your internship supervisor to ensure that you're on track with the training plan. Sometimes a training plan will alter during an internship due to company activities, economy, an intern's ability etc., and it's important that this is reviewed. On beginning an internship, whether it's paid or unpaid, then it's key for the intern to think about what they want to achieve from the placement and set clear, SMART objectives before starting and to reflect on progress regularly.

If an internship is unpaid, often an intern is in a stronger position to negotiate their training and be more involved in projects/tasks and responsibility. Whereas, sometimes on a paid internship, the company feels it can pass some regular work over, since they're paying a sort of "salary".

Internships whether paid or unpaid, can be a useful learning experience provided their managed properly by both the intern and the host company.

Volunteer Internships

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Daniel

June 26, 2009 1:39 AM

I agree with Barbara Holtzman comment. What about start giving proper names so someone can start investigating. Why in a free country like this one we feel still scared of giving proper names. These companies need to learned that it's not all about taking the big money from their clients and putting them into the pockets of the 2 or 3 top managers (that by the way are just surfing the web or talking on the phone all day), but they need to start leading by example to solve the challenges we are facing as a society they need to stop being greedy and making sacrifices(starting from the top down)like the rest of us. This companies talk about social responsability and equality that they don't practice. What about investigating small firms such as the one my friend worked at, LAGRANT COMMUNICATIONS in Los Angeles

Daniel

June 26, 2009 1:39 AM

I agree with Barbara Holtzman comment. What about start giving proper names so someone can start investigating. Why in a free country like this one we feel still scared of giving proper names. These companies need to learned that it's not all about taking the big money from their clients and putting them into the pockets of the 2 or 3 top managers (that by the way are just surfing the web or talking on the phone all day), but they need to start leading by example to solve the challenges we are facing as a society they need to stop being greedy and making sacrifices(starting from the top down)like the rest of us. This companies talk about social responsability and equality that they don't practice. What about investigating small firms such as the one my friend worked at, LAGRANT COMMUNICATIONS in Los Angeles

Daniel

June 26, 2009 1:39 AM

I agree with Barbara Holtzman comment. What about start giving proper names so someone can start investigating. Why in a free country like this one we feel still scared of giving proper names. These companies need to learned that it's not all about taking the big money from their clients and putting them into the pockets of the 2 or 3 top managers (that by the way are just surfing the web or talking on the phone all day), but they need to start leading by example to solve the challenges we are facing as a society they need to stop being greedy and making sacrifices(starting from the top down)like the rest of us. This companies talk about social responsability and equality that they don't practice. What about investigating small firms such as the one my friend worked at, LAGRANT COMMUNICATIONS in Los Angeles

Daniel

June 26, 2009 1:39 AM

I agree with Barbara Holtzman comment. What about start giving proper names so someone can start investigating. Why in a free country like this one we feel still scared of giving proper names. These companies need to learned that it's not all about taking the big money from their clients and putting them into the pockets of the 2 or 3 top managers (that by the way are just surfing the web or talking on the phone all day), but they need to start leading by example to solve the challenges we are facing as a society they need to stop being greedy and making sacrifices(starting from the top down)like the rest of us. This companies talk about social responsability and equality that they don't practice. What about investigating small firms such as the one my friend worked at, LAGRANT COMMUNICATIONS in Los Angeles

Daniel

June 26, 2009 1:39 AM

I agree with Barbara Holtzman comment. What about start giving proper names so someone can start investigating. Why in a free country like this one we feel still scared of giving proper names. These companies need to learned that it's not all about taking the big money from their clients and putting them into the pockets of the 2 or 3 top managers (that by the way are just surfing the web or talking on the phone all day), but they need to start leading by example to solve the challenges we are facing as a society they need to stop being greedy and making sacrifices(starting from the top down)like the rest of us. This companies talk about social responsability and equality that they don't practice. What about investigating small firms such as the one my friend worked at, LAGRANT COMMUNICATIONS in Los Angeles

Daniel

June 26, 2009 1:39 AM

I agree with Barbara Holtzman comment. What about start giving proper names so someone can start investigating. Why in a free country like this one we feel still scared of giving proper names. These companies need to learned that it's not all about taking the big money from their clients and putting them into the pockets of the 2 or 3 top managers (that by the way are just surfing the web or talking on the phone all day), but they need to start leading by example to solve the challenges we are facing as a society they need to stop being greedy and making sacrifices(starting from the top down)like the rest of us. This companies talk about social responsability and equality that they don't practice. What about investigating small firms such as the one my friend worked at, LAGRANT COMMUNICATIONS in Los Angeles

duane

July 3, 2009 7:52 AM

The job board on the Boston Craigslist for tech realted jobs is full of unpaid "Intern" offerings. They usually read like this "deep knowledge of" or "extesive understanding of". "Work in a fast paced environment..", "recent gollege graduate...". They aren't looking for people they have to train, they are looking for people who can hit the ground running who are willing to work for free. Why would an educated person fall for that scam? Most would simply laugh. But some are desperate. There is the hope of getting hired at some dim and distant future and fear of the gap in employment. The department of labor does have tests that need to be met. A lot of those bottom feeder companies will find themself in court rueing the money they "saved".

Name Withheld

August 27, 2009 10:46 PM

Eight weeks ago I was abruptly canned from my job as an Environmental Engineer at a well-known manufacturer. Today that same company has advertised an "opportunity" of an unpaid internship for.. guess what... an Environmental Engineer. What two years ago was a "Fortune 100 Best Places to Work" has declined into, as Duane calls it, "a bottom feeder" company.

Casey Donegan

January 27, 2010 8:09 AM

First to answer all the "What is the problem?" questions, when someone replaces a paid job with an unpaid job, it lowers income tax revenue, and also creates a standard where if you can't work for free, McDonalds IS your only option. I myself have been trying to fight the blatent illegal nature, and the DoL has told me that "Interns are volunteer and willing but most of all not employees and as such not under their jurisdiction."

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