Guidelines: Unpaid Internships

For-Profit Organizations
As summer approaches, along with summer internship considerations, private, for-profits will want to assure that they are following legal guidelines for the unpaid internships.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides guidelines for determining whether an unpaid internship is lawful:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operations of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

The private, for-profit organization brings the intern on board with the intent to function within the confines of the law. To assure that each supervisor also handles appropriately, the Organization will want to assure that clear expectations within guidelines are set regarding the role of the intern, and systematically communicated to the intern, and that each person supervising interns is properly trained regarding boundaries of the law.

If the Organization finds that they do not wish, for an array of reasons, to bring in interns on the basis of the law for unpaid interns, the option is to pay minimum wages or better, or abandon the internships option.

Non-Profit Organizations
As indicated by attorneys Christopher Kaczmarek and Ryan Crosswell, the Department of Labor does not “expressly articulate an alternative test for non-profit employers…some courts have suggested, without actually holding, that a more lenient test should be applied to internships in the non-profit sector. As a result, there has been some confusion among non-profit employers as to the status of their interns”.

While specific guidelines are provided for the private, for-profit sector, non-profits do not have clear guidelines.

You may wish to additionally note state laws, and to consult with your attorney before proceeding.


Fact Sheet #71:  Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act
Internship Programs Present Potential Wage and Hour Risks for Employers by
Christopher Kaczmarek and Ryan Crosswell of Littler; Publications


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