Official: Internship legality not an issue

Despite increased media attention about the legality of unpaid internships in recent weeks, the university did not have a problem with students reporting doing unrelated work in their career field at an unpaid internship, a Career Services official said.

According to an April 2 article in The New York Times, federal and state officials had concerns that employers used unpaid internships for free labor by having students do work that was mostly noneducational, such as making coffee and sweeping bathrooms.

Nicole Kinworthy, internship coordinator for Career Services, said she had not heard of any problems with university students having unpaid internships, but she was aware of hearing about problems at other universities.

According to The New York Times article, some students were afraid to mention internship abuses because they were afraid to become known as troublemakers in their career field, which could hurt their chances at future employment.

Gus Feliciano, a junior political science and economics major who has had a paid internship for about two weeks, said unpaid internships that had no educational value abused students who needed work experience. He said he thought all internships should be paid, especially because of the time commitment students make to internships.

“It’s really unfair that a company even (has unpaid internships) anymore,” he said. “It is like free labor.There should be some type of compensation for your time that you’re investing (with a company).”

Feliciano said he shadowed employees at his internship with JDG Wealth Management Group in order to prepare for working with clients and actually handling their money. He said if he encountered abuses at an unpaid internship, he would ask the employer if he could do tasks related to his career field, but he would also notify Career Services that the internship was not beneficial.

Benjamin Harris, a junior finance major who had a paid internship last summer at a law office, said his experience as an intern was a positive one. He said that if he were at an unpaid internship, he would wait for work assignments related to his field while doing other tasks and projects assigned to him in the meantime. After the internship, however, he said he would warn people that the internship would not advance their career goals.

Bill Cron, associate dean of Neeley School of Business graduate programs and professor of marketing, said students could end up doing noneducational tasks because companies are unprepared to actually show them what to do.

“What will happen many times is that the intern will show up, (and) somebody doesn’t have time to train them and show them all the background information that they need to have in order to be effective within the organization,” he said. “As a result, they’re given tasks they can do without that knowledge.”

Cron said it was the responsibility of Career Services to investigate and filter internship opportunities to ensure they would be valuable to students.

Kinworthy said Career Services already negotiates with companies offering internships to try and make sure students receive some kind of compensation for their work.

She said the U.S. Department of Labor had six legal criteria that, if met, meant a student would not be paid for an internship. She said these standards included requirements that students do not replace regular employees and that the employer must not gain an advantage from students’ work, meaning that the student would benefit the most from the work he or she does.

The standards do not apply to nonprofit organizations because they usually do not have enough income to pay interns, she said.

“Students may get better experience with a nonprofit (organization), it’s just that because they don’t have the income coming in, they can’t necessarily pay their interns,” she said.

In the end, however, the decision on whether or not to take a paid or unpaid internship was ultimately up to the student, Kinworthy said.

“Students just need to be aware of the issues,” she said. “It’s really up to the student whether they feel like it’s a good experience.”

All of the following criteria must be met for an internship to qualify as unpaid. “Training” is the work done by students, and “trainees” are student interns.

1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction.

2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees.

3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under the employees’ close observation.

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded.

5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period.

6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor