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Unpaid Internships

Rules of the Game: An Intern Is Not an Unpaid Employee

If you've ever been hired as an unpaid intern, then you know what it's like to work without pay. It's not easy, it's not always fun, and it's definitely not what you thought it would be. Still, for college students looking to gain experience, the unpaid internship is a pretty popular move.

Working for free isn't ideal, but as a student or recent grad who opts to take the position to get a better sense of the playing field, it's fair enough. But how about those employers who hire students as unpaid interns, but don't play by the rules? The answer to that comes in the form of a recent move by the US Department of Labor, who put out a new set of regulations, essentially to remind employers that there is, in fact, a legal difference between interns and regular employees who just aren't getting paid. And in light of an economic climate that has companies tightening budgets and purse strings, the DOL is putting out a message that they intend to enforce the rules a little more stringently this Summer than in the past.

But the DOL's real problem implementing regulations isn't just employers, it's also eager job hopefuls looking to score a job out of an unpaid internship. Job seekers looking to land a paying gig are, somewhat ironically, the least likely to advocate for pay right off the bat — I've had friends in the past who'd argue with employers to up their internship hours, work extra days, and do things beyond their requirements. They'll work for free, hoping for light at the end of the tunnel, and along with employers, they'll continue to blur the lines and push the boundaries between unpaid employee and unpaid intern.


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