From the Boston Bar Journal - Heads Up: Traps Associated with Hiring Unpaid Interns

by Paul Holtzman and Jill Brenner Meixel

Heads Up

With the economy’s ebbs more frequent than its flows during the past decade, private sector employers have tightened their financial belts, leading to a chronically elevated unemployment rate.  As an outgrowth of the tough market, job seekers are often willing to fill gaps between jobs by working as unpaid interns.  Employers welcome the additional help without any corresponding expense.  The interns covet the experience, networking and resume building.

This match between the interests of the private employer and the unpaid intern, however, has raised important legal issues which highlight the often blurred line between the “intern” and “employee” classifications.  In fact, this rise in internships has spurred additional scrutiny by the Department of Labor (DOL) with respect to employers’ compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and has resulted in increased litigation by interns against employers for failing to pay minimum wage.  Given the serious consequences of violating federal law and the Massachusetts wage laws, the importance of employers’ implementation of strict guidelines to ensure compliant intern programs is paramount.

Recent Case Law Relating to Unpaid Interns

The growing wave of intern lawsuits has led to some important decisions addressing whether interns must be treated as employees.  A number of courts have held that employers have misclassified employees as interns and therefore violated wage laws by failing to pay minimum wage.

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