Unpaid interns have been in employment news regularly over the past year due to several lawsuits alleging wage and hour violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Unpaid interns, mostly in the media and entertainment industries, claimed they were misclassified and that they should have been paid a minimum wage for the work they performed during their internships.
Some unpaid internships are valid, though private companies may not simply take advantage of free labor under the guise of an internship program. In fact, the Department of Labor (DOL) has set out six specific criteria for companies to use to determine whether interns may go unpaid. These criteria include that the internship be comparable to an educational environment and that the position would primarily benefit the intern, not the employer. Furthermore, courts have recently held that intern must be paid if companies assign them only menial office tasks that require no specialized training and that would normally be performed by other employees.
Recent Intern Cases
As previously discussed on this blog, several cases involving interns have arisen over the past year. Interns for Hearst and Fox Searchlight Pictures both won their cases in lower courts, as judges decided the companies had misclassified the interns who performed the tasks of regular employees. The Fox interns, who worked on the production of Black Swan, received almost no specialized training in the entertainment field and instead merely performed simple tasks such as fetching coffee, running errands, and filing. Hearst interns had similar claims. Therefore, the courts decided the companies had violated FLSA in not providing the interns with the required minimum wage for their labor. These decisions led many companies to redesign or completely eliminate their unpaid internship programs altogether to avoid accusations of FLSA violations.
The Second Circuit recently agreed to hear the appeals on both of those cases, however, meaning the interns’ victories are not set in stone. Attorneys for Fox argue that the six criteria set out by the DOL for unpaid internships are merely guidance and “not an official statement of the DOL’s position” on the structure and design of unpaid internship programs. Fox also opposed having its appeal heard in tandem with Hearst’s case, though the appeals court disagreed and will decide the cases together.
Many people expect the Second Circuit’s decision in these appeals to set the standard for unpaid intern cases across the country. Unpaid intern cases are currently pending in courts against Gawker Media, Sony Corporation of America, NBCUniversal, Warner Music, and much more. We will keep our eye on the developments in the unpaid intern cases and any new decisions of law regarding FLSA violations and interns.
If you believe you have been the victim of any type of labor law violations, do not hesitate to contact HKM Employment Attorneys for help today.