Employment Issues Involving Unpaid Interns
With the challenging job market in recent years, many students or recent graduates seek to gain experience and build their resumes by accepting an unpaid internship. However, because unpaid interns are not considered to be “employees” for the sake of employment law, there are many legal issues that may arise in these situations.
Minimum Hourly Wages And Overtime
Because unpaid interns are not technically employees, they are not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or Florida minimum wage laws. This means that they have no right to a certain hourly wage–or any wage at all, for that matter–in exchange for their work. Additionally, unpaid interns may be expected to work long hours though they are not legally entitled to overtime payments.
However, in recent years, many interns have come forward to file legal claims stating they should have been considered “employees” due to the nature of their jobs. Instead of having an educational experience in return for their work, many interns were given menial tasks that a paid employee would otherwise complete. This goes against the FLSA’s guidelines for unpaid internships and, in many cases, resulted in back pay to the interns. Any company that hires interns should ensure that their internship program meets the FLSA’s requirements in order to avoid having to pay interns a minimum wage. Some requirements include that the internship is primarily for the benefit of the intern, the internship provides educational training, and that the internship does not displace paid employees.
Protection Against Discrimination, Retaliation, Or Harassment
The lack of “employee” status also leaves unpaid interns without protections under Title VII and Florida anti-discrimination laws. This means that interns have no legal rights against unlawful workplace discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. While seven states and the District of Columbia have passed discrimination laws that protect unpaid interns, Florida has unfortunately not yet done so.
This can be a particular issue because of the often great disparity in power of a supervisor versus an unpaid intern on the bottom rung of the ladder. Supervisors may take the opportunity to sexually harass or otherwise mistreat interns, threatening to end the internship or give a poor recommendation if the advances are rebuffed. To make matters worse, such retaliation for reporting harassment is also not unlawful under employment laws, which often prevents unpaid interns from coming forward to report the offensive behavior. Hopefully, more states including Florida will continue to enact greater protections for unpaid interns in the workplace.
Consult With An Experienced Plantation, Florida Employment Law Attorney Today
If you are an unpaid intern or any other type of worker and have concerns about your rights being violated in the workplace, you should never hesitate to call a Florida wage law attorney at the Law Office of Robert S. Norell, P.A. We strive to protect the rights of all workers, whether you are an unpaid intern, an employee, or an independent contractor. We will evaluate your situation and determine whether you have a valid legal claim, so please call today at 954-617-6017 for help.