If you’ve been an undergraduate or graduate student, you’ve likely worked as an intern before. If you’ve interned in New York’s thriving finance industry, such as for a media company or a law firm, you know how hard businesses expect interns to work. Perhaps your employer promised you that in exchange for your hard work as an intern, you’d receive hands-on work experience and a letter of recommendation. Many people don’t realize that an unpaid internship is illegal.
The wage and hour attorney at Lipsky Lowe LLP, are well versed in New York employment law. We’ve seen the detrimental effects that illegal unpaid internships have on our clients. Our attorneys will help you fight against the exploitation of unpaid workers. If you’ve worked in an unlawful unpaid internship, we will use our over 30 years of experience to fight for your interests aggressively in and out of the courtroom. We will use our in-depth knowledge of New York State, New York City, and New Jersey employment laws to fight for your desired outcome.
New York City Unpaid Internships
Companies often target specific groups of people to obtain free or cheap labor through unethical practices. In many cases, high school students, college students, students engaged in graduate courses, and recent graduates end up completing menial tasks for free.
If a company hired these students under the guise of providing vocational and educational benefits, and they fail to do so, you may be able to bring a lawsuit. Similarly, if a company hired you as a trainee and paid you below minimum wage, you may have a legal claim against them. That is especially true if your employer expected you to meet quotas that permanent employees must meet.
When Does An Unpaid Internship Violate The Law?
The U.S. Department of Labor employs a test to determine whether or not an employer needs to pay an intern, which is based on a factor test, and the particular facts of each case are vital to the decision. Our experienced employment law attorneys will listen to your story and help determine whether your employer should have paid you for your internship.
Department of Labor Fact Sheet #71, published in 2010, sets forth seven factors that employers must meet before they can exclude an unpaid intern from compensation. These factors parallel the guidance outlined in federal circuit court rulings. An employer can only avoid paying an intern at least a minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standard Act after consideration of the following factors:
- Whether or not the employer made an implied or express promise of compensation for the work done during the internship.
- Whether or not the training is similar to training received in a clinical or educational program.
- Whether or not the internship and the intern’s educational process are tied together.
- Whether or not the internship corresponds to the student’s academic calendar.
- Whether or not the internship is limited to a period when he or she is benefiting from educational learning.
- Whether or not the intern’s work complements or replaces the production of regular, paid employees.
- Whether or not the intern understands that he or she is not guaranteed paid employment at the end of the internship.
In short, the more closely tied the internship is with academic coursework, the more likely it is to remain an unpaid internship. If the internship more closely resembles the work of the employer’s paid employees, the more likely the employer should legally pay the intern. The Department of Labor states that one factor is not determinative. Instead, whether the internship should be a paid or unpaid internship depends on applying the unique facts of each case to these factors.
New York State Law Adds Five Additional Factors To The Unpaid Internship Test
In addition to the seven factors set forth by the Department of Labor, New York law adds the following additional five factors to the test:
- A knowledgeable staff must administer the unpaid internship training. A business cannot merely assign cheaper junior level staff to work with interns.
- Interns cannot receive the same employer-given benefits during the internship that employees receive. An employer cannot offer unpaid interns the same pension or long-term health and dental care benefits typically reserved for paid employees.
- The training an unpaid intern receives needs to be general and applicable to broader business practices, not just to that particular company. An unpaid intern needs to be able to use the skills learned outside of the employer’s business.
- The process for hiring unpaid interns needs to be different than the process for hiring employees. An employer cannot use unpaid internships merely as a way to test out potential paid employees.
- Advertisements for the availability of unpaid internships must focus on educational benefits rather than the employment benefits. Companies can indicate that it may offer successful unpaid interns employment at the end of the internship.
Contact Our New York City Unpaid Internship Attorney
If you’re currently in an internship, you may be considering bringing the issue of payment up to your employer and requesting payment. We highly recommend consulting with an experienced employment law attorney at Lipsky Lowe LLP before taking action in your case.
We know how disappointing it can be when a company offered you a meaningful internship, and instead, you end up fetching coffee and engaging in menial work. You do not need to suffer in silence. If you are one of many New Yorkers who have worked as an unpaid intern in New York City, you may have a right to monetary compensation. Contact the experienced New York unpaid internship attorneys at Lipsky Lowe LLP to set up your free employment law consultation today.