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Unpaid Internships Contribute to Wealth Gap, Experts Say

The Daily Free Press—Margaret Waterman

Although employment lawsuits stemming from the unfair treatment of unpaid interns are on the rise, Boston University students said the opportunities derived from internship experiences could outweigh the negative aspects.

“You get the experience with the company,” said College of General Studies sophomore Madisen Sanders. “That [experience] benefits what you want to do — you can get that experience to boost up your resume … It depends on your financial situation whether you think it’s fair or not.”

Not all students find unpaid internships to live up to that standard, however, something which Maurice Pianko said inspired him to create Intern Justice, a website dedicated to encouraging attorneys to take on fair employment cases.

“That’s really what I am trying to do — to get these employers to realize that they are required to pay interns minimum wage, at least, and if they do not, there is an exemption if it is a glorified internship, in which they have to make sure the internships match up with the six factor test set up by the U.S. Department of Labor,” Pianko said.

When unpaid, an internship must provide interns with similar training given in academia, must benefit the intern, must not displace regular employees, must derive no immediate advantage from the intern’s actions and responsibilities, must not guarantee the intern a job and it must clearly be known the intern is not to be paid, according to a U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division fact sheet.

Pianko said if the internship in question does not fulfill all six of these criteria, it can be deemed illegal. In addition to employers breaking the law, he said hiring interns without pay might have a large impact on the recession and the U.S. economy.

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Juno Turner, an attorney representing employees in all areas of employment law and an Outten and Golden LLP associate, said the rise in unpaid labor is detrimental in that it represents a class issue.

“There are people who can, for example, move to New York and work a job at night full-time to support themselves while living there and working during the day for free, but that’s a very grueling experience,” Turner said. “For a lot of people, it’s just not possible to live in a large city where many of these types of corporations are having unpaid internships.”

Turner said being unable to accept an unpaid internship greatly diminishes one’s chances of finding a job after graduation.

“More and more employers are looking to their former interns for potential future employees, and having internships on your resume is sort of considered the prerequisite to employment in a lot of industries,” she said.

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