Over the weekend, the New York Times took employers to task for taking advantage of university kids eager to get work experience. Unpaid internships abound, and the recession has made it easier for corporate employers to cry poor, and bring on free labor.
However, there are strict federal guidelines [PDF] around unpaid internships, and many are breaking the law by giving their eager little beavers noneducational menial work. The folks at the Labor Department are on to this devious scheme:
Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.
While most of the abusive internships are in the exciting worlds of fashion, film, media, and music, there was at least one poor NYU student suckered into cleaning out bathrooms for free at a law firm…
Lots of ATL readers like to talk about the master-slave relationship between associates and paralegals. Well, it sounds like one “midsize law firm” — New York-based, we assume — took the slave thing literally:
Trudy Steinfeld, director of N.Y.U.’s Office of Career Services, said she increasingly had to ride herd on employers to make sure their unpaid internships were educational. She recently confronted a midsize law firm that promised one student an educational $10-an-hour internship. The student complained that the firm was not paying him and was requiring him to make coffee and sweep out bathrooms.
We know times are tough at law firms, but do they really have to resort to stiffing the undergraduate help?
One law school student wonders whether the public sector deserves some scrutiny as well:
In light of the amount of unpaid internships floating around this summer, I thought this article raises interesting considerations for law school students and those (usually government offices) who “employ” us.
If you’re spending the summer with the DA unpaid, and they ask you to clean out the bathrooms, just say no and send them this article. Though, given the paucity of legal jobs right now, perhaps developing some janitorial skills is not such a bad thing.
Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, Officials Say [New York Times]