Unpaid Interns May Have Wage and Hour Claims

A former editorial intern for the Charlie Rose Show, Lucy Bickerton, brought a lawsuit against Mr. Rose and the show’s production company, in the New York State Supreme Court, for unpaid wages. The catch is, she agreed to work as an unpaid intern.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans work as unpaid interns every year to gain experience with desired employers. Now interns like Lucy Bickerton are now speaking out that their unpaid positions violate federal and state labor laws, because their employers are using them to do jobs of paid employees instead of providing any real educational experience.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires companies to offer an educational benefit to their interns if there is no other compensation involved. The New Jersey Administrative Code (N.J.A.C. 12:56-18.2) provides that the following conditions should be met to allow for non-paid activities of student learners at for profit and non-profit organizations:
1. The student shall be at least 16 years old
2. The activity must be related to a formal school-to-work transition plan for a student learner
3. There is collaboration and planning between worksite staff and school staff resulting in clearly identified learning objectives related to the non-paid activities
4. Any productive work is incidental to achieving learning objectives
5. The student learner receives credit for time spent at the worksite and the student is expected to achieve the learning objectives
6. The student learner is supervised by a school official and a workplace mentor
7. The non-paid activity is of a limited duration, related to an educational purpose and there is no guarantee or expectation that the activity will result in employment
8. The student learner does not replace an employee

While the New Jersey Administrative Code addresses “student workers,” the Code does not provide specific guidance for young New Jersey residents who have recently graduated and have taken unpaid internships in lieu of paid employment due to the poor economy. The failure to address this sector of the state’s workforce may actually be advantageous for unpaid interns in New Jersey who find that they are taking on responsibilities that paid employees within their company generally take on. Since many employers will find it challenging to meet the stringent requirements of N.J.A.C. 12:56-18.2, many unpaid interns within the state may find themselves within the protection of New Jersey’s wage and hour laws.

If you are working for a company as an unpaid intern, carrying out responsibilities and duties of paid employees, and believe you are not receiving any type of benefit in return, you should contact an employment law attorney to see if you have a possible wage and hour claim against your employer.