Thought Leadership

Do We Have to Pay Summer Interns?

April 1, 2014 Advisory

With summer approaching, many employers are receiving requests from college and high school students to work as summer interns. Many of these applicants are willing to work for free to gain valuable experience and frequently their contribution to the bottom line is minimal. Is it legal to allow them to work for free? The answer is often “No.” Read further to see what you need to consider before you inadvertently expose your organization to a wage and hour claim or lawsuit. 

On June 11, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that two unpaid interns on the Fox Searchlight movie, “Black Swan,” should have been paid because they were essentially regular employees, not “interns” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The “Black Swan” ruling and other recent decisions are a wake-up call for companies to re-evaluate unpaid internship programs to ensure compliance with the law. 

Indeed, for-profit companies that are currently using unpaid interns should be acutely aware that the FLSA’s exception that allows this practice is extremely narrow, and that any “intern” who does not fit the narrow exception must actually be paid as any employee. 

Every “employee” under the FLSA must be paid at least minimum wage and, when applicable, overtime. Courts interpret “employee” very broadly. In fact, courts sometimes presumptively view internships at for-profit companies as employment. However, interns who receive training for their own educational benefit, rather than the benefit of the employer, may nevertheless meet the unpaid intern exception and not be paid. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has identified six criteria that must be met for determining whether an internship program meets this narrow exclusion:

  • The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment;
  • The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  • The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  • 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;
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

While some courts do not require that all six factors be met, the Court in the recent Fox Searchlight decision agreed with the DOL that all six factors must be satisfied. In whatever court a company finds itself, the ultimate determination as to whether an unpaid intern is an “employee” entitled to compensation will be made on a case-by-case basis and depends upon all the facts and circumstances of the internship program.

In short, employers should proceed with caution and undertake a proper evaluation of their unpaid internship programs before those internships begin.

Contact Us
  • Worldwide
  • Boston, MA
  • Denver, CO
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Edwardsville, IL
  • Jefferson City, MO
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • London, England
  • Miami, FL
  • New York, NY
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Princeton, NJ
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Wilmington, DE
Worldwide
abstract image of world map
Boston, MA
800 Boylston St.
30th Floor
Boston, MA 02199
Google Maps
Boston, Massachusetts
Denver, CO
4643 S. Ulster St.
Suite 800
Denver, CO 80237
Google Maps
Denver, Colorado
Dublin, Ireland
Fitzwilliam Hall, Fitzwilliam Place
Dublin 2, Ireland
Google Maps
Edwardsville, IL
115 N. Second St.
Edwardsville, IL 62025
Google Maps
Edwardsville, Illinois
Jefferson City, MO
101 E. High St.
First Floor
Jefferson City, MO 65101
Google Maps
Jefferson City, Missouri
Kansas City, MO
2345 Grand Blvd.
Suite 1500
Kansas City, MO 64108
Google Maps
Kansas City, Missouri
Las Vegas, NV
1980 Festival Plaza Drive, Suite 750
One Summerlin
Las Vegas, NV 89135
Google Maps
Las Vegas, Nevada
London, England
Royal College of Surgeons of England
38-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
London, WC2A 3PE
Google Maps
Miami, FL
355 Alhambra Circle
Suite 1250
Coral Gables, FL 33134
Google Maps
Photo of Miami, Florida
New York, NY
7 Times Square, 44th Floor
New York, NY 10036
Google Maps
New York City skyline
Philadelphia, PA
2005 Market Street
29th Floor, One Commerce Square
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Google Maps
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Princeton, NJ
100 Overlook Center
Second Floor
Princeton, NJ 08540
Google Maps
Princeton, New Jersey
Salt Lake City, UT
201 South Main Street
Suite 750
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Google Maps
Salt Lake City, Utah
St. Louis, MO
7700 Forsyth Blvd.
Suite 1800
St. Louis, MO 63105
Google Maps
St. Louis, Missouri
Washington, D.C.
1050 Connecticut Avenue NW
Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036
Google Maps
Photo of Washington, D.C. with the Capitol in the foreground and Washington Monument in the background.
Wilmington, DE
1007 North Market Street
Wilmington, DE 19801
Google Maps
Wilmington, Delaware