Do You Have Grounds to Sue? The Legality of Unpaid Internships

In response to the recent LA Times article: "Interns Remain Unpaid at Lionsgate despite Lawsuits elsewhere."

As someone who is personally invested in your career success, I would never recommend suing your former boss- no mater how many times you had to go to Trader Joes and get them lunch.

The Blacklist may have officially gone out with the Communist Soviet Union, but if your name ends up on Deadline you could get a cool million and never work in this industry again.

On the other hand, misguided and lawyer equipped former interns like the ones that sued Fox last year are CHANGING the industry one studio/ production company/ and major scandal at a time.

Lionsgate remains one of THE ONLY major studios to offer only unpaid internships. ABC, NBC, CBS, SONY, VIACOM, FOX, Paramount have all switched to paid internships programs in the past couple years to avoid lawsuits like the one FOX faced last year. Lawsuits like these are extremely costly in legal fees, often have multiple appeals, last years, and are a PR disaster.

The influx of paid internship programs is both good and bad if you are searching for an internship at one of these companies.

The GOOD: You will be getting paid (yay Money!), have tasks that are more similar to actual employees, be instrumental to the business, be treated to more fleshed out internship programs, and create more valuable connections.

The BAD: These more valuable connections are because there are LESS internships. There are simply less internships at these companies then there was five years ago-  30-50% less. Departments that once employed 4-6 interns now employ 1-2.

If you have an unpaid internships, is it even legal? 

The following 6 Legal Criteria for Unpaid Internships was released by the Department of Labor in April 2010.
  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

The Case for College Credit 

Now, many internships attempt to circumvent legal action by offering college credit (that you often need to pay for, especially during Summer).

They do this under the impression that "the internship experience is for the benefit of the intern", since they are receiving credit for their internship. It also circumvents the "training" and "educational aspect" of the whole shebang. College credit also illustrates an understanding that the intern is not entitled to wages for their time and is not entitled to a job at the end of the internship. 

However, here's why you could theoretically still sue. The place where these for college credit internship fall apart is the third and forth criteria. In the entertainment industry, the employer ALMOST ALWAYS derives immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. This is likely why I give Lionsgate a year until they transition into paid internships. You hear that Lionsgate, one year! Coverage, Lunch duty, and other office tasks are typical intern tasks. What do these tasks have in common? They give the employer immediate advantage, especially as they bite into that juicy salad (or hamburger if you're in New York). Also, these tasks displace regular employees like receptionists, script readers, and other entry-level jobs. 

Speaking of Entry-level jobs...

There are less of them as paid interns become more and more common. 

So that's fun!
At least we're mostly interns for now. 

One year year. 

What do you think? Paid internships or unpaid internships? Does the immediate cash value outweigh the possible long term consequences to your career? 

Do You Have Grounds to Sue? The Legality of Unpaid Internships Do You Have Grounds to Sue? The Legality of Unpaid Internships Reviewed by Unknown on 6/13/2014 Rating: 5

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