Internship Hardships: Federal Intervention Creates Complexity

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Internship Hardships: Federal Intervention Creates Complexity

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The federal government plays a larger role in whether or not you get paid for your internship than you may know.

As a college student, you’re expected to complete at least one internship during your time at school. Internships are designed to give you professional experience before officially heading into the workforce. You usually work with a mentor and are assigned tasks to supplement your studies, while also helping the company meet its goals.

Kerry Shackett, Career Coach at Champlain College, is responsible for aiding students in obtaining an internship or being employed.

“Internships are good for everything. They give you day-in-the-life of a working person in your field. They allow you to gain skills in areas you’ll need when you actually get employed,” Kerry stated. “Internships give you an idea of what you like or don’t like in a job or work environment. You should 100% complete at least one internship while in college or before you start your career.”

A common misconception many students have is that because you, the intern, are doing work, you’re just like an employee and should get paid. This isn’t reality. According to the United States Department of Labor, “The FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] requires for-profit employers to pay employees for their work. Interns and students, however, may not be ‘employees’ under the FLSA—in which case the FLSA does not require compensation for their work.”

The Department of Labor discusses a “test” that can be performed to decide whether you are an intern or employee, as quoted below:

  1. “The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
  2.     The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
  3.     The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
  4.     The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
  5.     The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
  6.     The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
  7.     The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.”

Once you and your employer have established working guidelines for your internship, it’s not considered employment: “. . . if the analysis confirms that the intern or student is not an employee,” the Fair Labor Standards Act states, “Then he or she is not entitled to either minimum wage or overtime pay under the FLSA.”

Paid internships also don’t follow federal regulations. If your internship is tied to an academic calendar, you’re exempt from that state’s minimum wage if employers so choose. “Students working during all or any part of the school year or regular vacation periods are exempt from Vermont’s minimum wage law. (21 V.S.A. § 383.) Therefore, an employer may pay a student the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 instead of the Vermont minimum wage of $10.50,” states Vermont Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

“While you’re a student, internships don’t have to pay you, however, post-grad internships must be paid. It’s the law. You’re no longer doing the internship to supplement what you’re learning in class,” advised Kerry. “Depending on the industry you enter, one to two internships post-grad is a good starting point career-wise. The first year after graduation is a good time to get either a few short internships or one long internship to get you in the full-time-work-mode.”