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How To Have Unpaid Interns And Not Get Sued

Law360—Ben James

Summer is just around the corner, and a new crop of young talent is looking for its first taste of the business world, but a recent spate of wage litigation against companies like the Hearst Corp. has stoked concerns that unpaid internships may lead to costly class actions. 

In recent years, a wave of class actions have been brought by former unpaid interns who claim that they were actually "employees" under federal state law and are owed minimum and overtime wages — a trend that has raised doubts about whether internship programs remain feasible.

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However, following the law may be easier said than done, since the legal landscape is in flux. The Second Circuit, for instance, is weighing what standard to apply to claims from interns that they should have been paid in cases against Hearst and Fox Entertainment Inc.

"Our view is employers ought to be paying interns, period," said Outten & Golden LLP's Juno Turner, an attorney for the intern-plaintiffs in both the Hearst and Fox cases. 

Though lawyers on both sides of the employment bar say companies can make things considerably simpler by paying interns minimum wage, that may not be an option for every business that wants to let up-and-comers get some hands-on experience.

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