A judge in the Southern District of New York has ruled that interns who were essentially treated the same as paid staff — with the exception of not being paid — are actually regular employees. Federal and New York law require that employees be paid. While certain “trainees” may be exempt from these requirements, simply calling someone an “intern” is not sufficient. A true internship, that is not required by law to be compensated, must actually provide some degree of education and training that other, paid employees, would not get. So if the only education you get from your internship is the experience of working somewhere — learning how the photocopier works, getting a line on a resume — it’s not an internship, it’s just free labor. That’s not OK.
In a world where more people must compete for fewer jobs, and where wages have been near stagnant for decades, unpaid internships reinforce the worst kinds of inequality. Unpaid interns drive down wages for everyone, making paid employees work under the threat of being replaced by “interns.” Who can compete with free labor?
Moreover, these unpaid “internships” are increasingly becoming prerequisites to paid employment. This creates a world in which only those who can afford to work for free are able to secure paid work.
This decision is a great step in the right direction. If you are an unpaid intern, and think you should be getting paid, contact us.