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Job Doc: When are interns entitled to be paid?

Q. I am planning on interning next fall. I hope to be paid. My uncle says there is a new requirement to pay interns. What do you know about this?

A. There are no new laws requiring interns to be compensated. I consulted Jeffrey Dretler, an attorney at the national law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP, who says: “In the past few years, lawsuits were filed against several high-profile employers arguing that unpaid interns were really employees who should have received minimum wage and overtime pay. In June 2013, a federal judge in New York ruled that interns who worked on Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc.’s production of the film ‘Black Swan’ did not qualify as unpaid ‘trainees,’ but were employees entitled to the protection of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.”

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Unpaid internships for nonprofits are generally acceptable, says Dretler. As for the for-profit sector, the Labor Department has issued guidelines for evaluating whether an unpaid internship is appropriate: (1) the internship is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment; (2) the experience is for the benefit of the intern; (3) the intern does not displace regular employees; (4) the employer derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and, in some cases, the employer’s operations may be impeded; (5) the intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and (6) the employer and intern understand the intern is not entitled to wages.

“In most instances,” Dretler adds, “when an intern is performing services for an employer and earning credits as part of a degree or certificate-granting educational program, payment is not required. But if the intern is doing administrative tasks without receiving much training and the employer seems to be taking advantage of ‘free labor,’ the intern may be entitled to wages.”

You should ask if the internship is paid.

Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton.
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