Unpaid internships threatened by federal law

Internships may cost employers soon / Source: Thinkstock
Unpaid internships may cost employers soon / Source: Thinkstock

For many companies summer has been indicative of two things: a reminder of the office dress code and bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, unpaid interns looking to advance their careers. Industries such as publishing and entertainment have thrived on finding full-time employees through their interns.

However, those days of free labor could be limited following the decision by New York federal judge William H. Pauley III, this week, that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated the fair labor standards act after the company failed to compensate interns who worked on production for the 2010 film “Black Swan.”

According to a recent Huffington Post article, the decision could cause some companies to reconsider if it’s worth the legal risk to hire interns without payment.

“The return on a college investment has fallen, students are facing higher and higher debt burdens, and the reaction of employers is to make matters worse for them by hiring more and more people without paying them,” Economic Policy Insititute vice president Ross Eisenbrey told the Huffington Post.

You can probably recall last year’s case of 28-year-old former Harper’s Bazaar intern Xuedan Wang suing Hearst Corp., claiming that she her 40-hour workweek sometimes went up to 55-hours.

Though the case was eventually dismissed in May 2013, the class-action suit was one of the first indications of an impending conversation about unpaid internship practices.

Though for most young people the the unpaid internship is a rite of passage and can have many positive outcomes, they can also prove burdensome while searching for a job in America’s tough economy.

“This is an incredibly important decision as far as establishing that interns have the same wage and hour rights as other employees,” attorney Juno Turner told the Huffington Post. “You can’t just call something an internship and expect not to pay people when the interns are providing a direct benefit to the company.”

Companies, get ready; those coffee and Xerox runs may cost you soon.

Follow Courtney M. Fowler on Twitter @Court_Nation.


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