The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not
Published: April 2, 2010
I recently heard from a parent of a former student we had placed on a government internship. He commented on the Times article and complimented our internship program, stating that he so appreciated our emphasis on educational internships.
National Association of Colleges and Employers survey found that 50 percent of graduating students had participated in internships. Internships — paid or unpaid — serve as valuable steppingstones that help young people land future jobs. “Internships have become the gateway into the white-collar work force,” said Ross Perlin, a Stanford graduate and onetime unpaid intern who is writing a book on the subject.
However,Many students said they had held internships that involved noneducational menial work. To be sure, many internships involve some unskilled work, but when the jobs are mostly drudgery, regulators say, it is clearly illegal not to pay interns.
One Ivy League student said she spent an unpaid three-month internship at a magazine packaging and shipping 20 or 40 apparel samples a day back to fashion houses that had provided them for photo shoots.
At Little Airplane, a Manhattan children’s film company, an N.Y.U. student who hoped to work in animation during her unpaid internship said she was instead assigned to the facilities department and ordered to wipe the door handles each day to minimize the spread of swine flu.
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.