Many employers rely on unpaid interns to operate their businesses. If you worked as an unpaid intern and were asked to do mundane tasks that were not educational in nature, you may be entitled to recover compensation. Corporations offer unpaid internships to recruit recent graduates and students. While the companies claim that they are paying their interns with experience, some are simply obtaining free labor. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler can help to determine whether you might be entitled to compensation for your work as an unpaid intern.
Unpaid interns and federal law
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, six requirements must be met for an internship to qualify as unpaid, including the following:
- The internship must be similar to the type of training that would be provided in an educational setting;
- The internship is designed to benefit the intern;
- Regular employees are not displaced by the intern, and the intern works under the close supervision of staff;
- The employer that gives the training does not receive immediate advantages from the intern’s work;
- The intern is not guaranteed a job after completing the internship; and
- The intern and the employer have an understanding that the intern will not be paid for the time that the intern spends in the internship.
To qualify, the internship must meet all six of these factors. If your internship did not meet one of the six factors, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act may have been violated. You may be entitled to compensation for the wages that you should have been paid.
New Jersey laws
New Jersey has several state employment laws that protect the rights of workers, including laws against discrimination and harassment, laws against retaliation, and laws about wage and hour rules. Many laws apply to employees, and some only apply to paid employees. Others also cover unpaid interns, independent contractors, and volunteers.
Volunteers and interns are distinguished by some laws. Internships are designed to offer educational benefits to workers, and they can be unpaid or paid. For example, an intern might receive college credit for completing his or her internship. Volunteers normally undertake work for altruistic purposes and do not expect to receive any benefits in return.
State and federal wage and hour laws
Employers are required to pay workers for the work that the workers perform under state and federal wage and hour laws. Exceptions are made for qualified unpaid interns, however. While the federal law uses the previously listed six factors to determine whether an unpaid internship is valid, New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Law implements an eight-part test. Under this law, coordination between the intern’s university and the employer is required. Any positions that do not meet the requirements must be paid positions.
Volunteers are excluded from the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law’s definition of employees. Employers are not allowed to claim that regular work at their facilities constitutes volunteer services. The Fair Labor Standards Act states that employees who work for public agencies are unable to volunteer to do the same work for their agencies that they do in their regular jobs.
Anti-discrimination laws and interns
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination both prohibit employers from discriminating against and harassing workers based on prohibited factors, including national origin, race, color, sex, religion, and others. According to the Division of Civil Rights of the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety, volunteers and unpaid interns are covered by the NJLAD’s prohibitions against discrimination and retaliation at work.
By contrast, courts have held that Title VII’s prohibitions against discrimination and retaliation based on protected statuses do not apply to unpaid interns. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission did identify some scenarios in which unpaid interns could qualify for protection under Title VII, however.
Get help from Swartz Swidler
Unpaid internships are not illegal in New Jersey under state or federal law. However, a purported unpaid internship must meet all of the required criteria under federal and state law to be regarded as valid. If one of the criteria is not met, the internship will not be considered to be a valid unpaid internship, meaning that the intern may be entitled to recover compensation for the work that he or she has performed during the internship. To learn more about your potential rights, contact Swartz Swidler today by filling out our online contact form.