Are Unpaid Internships Ethical?

It’s an employer’s market out there but is there any excuse for employers getting free labor from interns?

Interns have great ideas.

Sure, they might not be able to pull a project together by themselves and they’ll make gaffes in meetings that will make Joe Biden look like a suave speaker, but they’re eager and they’re fresh.  Employers are definitely doing interns a favor by showing them the ropes, but employees who have been plugging away at the same job for a while can definitely benefit from an intern with new ideas.

Interns will do anything you want.

Remember when you were little and your parents made you do dumb stuff for them?  I remember my dad would ask me to get the remote for him because he was too lazy to get up.  My sister and I were also the resident dishwashers, dusters, footmen, butlers, and when we got older, lawnmowers.  Like kids, interns are like personal slaves, in a good way.  They take the load off the more experienced employees so that the big dogs can get important stuff done.  Increased productivity?  That’s worth a few bucks an hour.

Interns are poor.

A lot of kids in college these days are living life on credit with a hope that it will pay off one day.  Asking anyone else to work for free would be ludicrous, not to mention illegal.  Employers are allowed to do it under very specific criteria, criteria that aren’t widely known to the students who work for them.  Here’s the low-down on unpaid internship restrictions.  They must be:

• A “work experience;”

• A training activity;

• On-the-job training; or

• A “work experience” or training activity coupled with supportive services.

Most of us think “work experience” and think that covers just about all internships, but the specifications are much narrower than that.  In fact, the employer must provide a structured training program for the program to qualify for “unpaid” status.  If you’re getting coffee and filing (and not much else), be aware that your hiring company may be violating labor regulations.  As if that wasn’t scary enough (interns aren’t exactly in a place to complain) those entry-level job positions you’ll be looking for post graduation are being worked by unpaid interns.

One-quarter to one-half of all internships are unpaid.  Ironically (or perhaps expectedly), many of those interns are working for the United States government, who are exempt from the above guidelines.  To me, that seems patently unfair.  Do you agree or disagree?  Sound off in the comments!


I’m reading Introduction Chemistry