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Your Rights as an Intern: What You Should Know

Written by Anika Pasilis on May 11, 2020
3 min read

As spring turns into summer, some of you may have accepted internship positions for the coming months. Congratulations! You will learn invaluable lessons and have the opportunity to network with people in your chosen field; however, before you start your internship, you should be aware of your rights as an intern. 

Unfortunately, the laws around paying interns are not the most clear but it really comes down to whether or not you’re considered an employee at your internship. The Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the right to minimum wage and “time-and-a-half” overtime pay, requires for-profit organizations to pay their employees as they are performing duties that generate money for the company.

Courts have used a “test” to determine whether or not you are considered to be an employee as an intern, and therefore, are entitled to employee rights under the FLSA. There are seven factors, though no one factor is determinative and it really depends on a case-by-case basis. For example, you may not be considered an employee if there is a clear understanding between you and the organization that there is no payment. However, any “express or implied” notion of payment may qualify you as an employee. If you actually do qualify as an employee, according to the FLSA, you must be paid and are entitled to overtime and at least the minimum wage of your state. 

Thus, the main difference between a paid and an unpaid internship is that paid interns have the same rights as an employee. An unpaid internship is typically tied to academic requirements. It must coincide with the academic calendar, and have a clear start and end date. Many organizations work with universities to develop a plan for unpaid interns and keep them on the right track. Oftentimes, you will have to complete coursework in addition to your internship in order to receive credit.

While there are parameters for an unpaid internship, the actual law surrounding their rights is murky as many laws regarding employment were written before the advent of unpaid internships. In fact, many states do not have clear laws regarding sexual harassment and workplace violence against interns. There is no precedent or law case that can be applied when unpaid interns’ rights are violated, according to the Iowa Law Review.

Sadly, many interns are taken advantage of. They are not given enough feedback or evaluation, or they are made to do work that would replace a regular employee despite being unpaid. Your education and success is worth more than that. If your internship position is displacing a full-time employee, you should be paid. Talk to your supervisor and your university advisor if you feel you are being taken advantage of. 

Every intern deserves the same rights as a paid employee. Paid internships are the first step towards a more diverse, ethical workforce, especially since they often lead to full time employment. Unpaid internships prove to be a huge barrier to entry in the workforce. Not only do they often not lead to full time job offers, but 11% of those who partake in unpaid internships are less likely to be satisfied at their first job, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In addition, unpaid internship opportunities require interns to either have a socioeconomic advantage or take a second or third part-time job to pay for expenses. That is why Symba is working hard to make paid internships a reality for all. 

That means no more coffee runs, and no more staying after hours without compensation. Being informed is having power over your own narrative. You are worth more than unpaid experience and academic credit. Once you know your rights, you can better understand your position within the company. Be comfortable with saying no and standing your ground. In the meantime, Symba is on your side. 

By Anika Pasilis

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Anika Pasilis

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