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Most internships are required to pay minimum wage

With summer jobs hard to come by, many high school and college students - and even some college grads - are willing to work in unpaid internships. Many employers - who are often barely getting by themselves - are eager to take advantage of free help. Yet unless the internship meets specific requirements, interns by law must be paid at least the minimum wage.  People who work in unpaid private-sector internships that should have been paid can file a federal or state wage claim and could receive back wages, even if they agreed to work for free.  "Abuse is rampant," says Stephen Hirschfeld, an attorney with Curiale Hirschfeld Kraemer who represents employers. Most unpaid interns "should be paid."  But interns rarely complain because they get experience, a job reference and contacts. "It's a symbiotic relationship," Hirschfeld says.  Some employers admit they were unaware of the legal requirements when they recruited or hired unpaid interns. "Actually, we haven't done any due diligence," says Cliff Perotti, a Realtor in Marin County who posted an ad for an unpaid intern on Craigslist.

Perotti wanted to help students who might be interested in a real estate career. "We have them work side by side with us," he says. "It's kind of an educational environment for them."  Some employers think that as long as students can get high school or college credit for an internship, they do not have to be paid. In fact, school credit is not a requirement, nor does it guarantee that an unpaid internship is legal.  The U.S. Department of Labor says that an unpaid internship at a for-profit company must meet six criteria.  It must be for the benefit of the intern and provide training that is similar to what the intern would get in an educational environment. The intern cannot displace other employees and must work under the close supervision of the existing staff. The employer should derive "no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern" and could at times be impeded by the intern's presence.  It must be clear that the intern is not entitled to wages during the internship and not necessarily entitled to a paid job when it ends. (click on link to read full story)


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