The (Almost) Top 10 Requirements for Unpaid Internships

by Deborah Z Mark



People like to get something for nothing.

Ask David Letterman.

CBS and David Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants, are on the receiving end of a class-action lawsuit filed recently by Mallory Musallam, a former unpaid intern at “Late Show with David Letterman”.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated minimum wage and overtime laws (for six years) by giving work to unpaid interns that should have been done by paid employees. *

That’s a real kick in the pants.

What is an Intern?

What is an intern, exactly? defines an intern as “a student or recent graduate who works for a period of time at a job in order to get experience”.

Internships are popular, and for good reason.

An internship is a chance for a student to gain valuable insight into a career while at the same time offering value to the company providing the internship.  But before your company offers an internship in lieu of a paid position, be aware of the U.S. Department of Labor requirements for internship programs.

The (Almost) Top 10 Requirements

6.  The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment

5.  The internship is for the benefit of the intern

4.  The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of staff

3.  The employer providing training gains no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities

2.  The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship

1.  Both parties understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for time spent in the internship

Other Requirements

  • If you would have required your staff to work additional hours, or hired additional employees to do the work if your interns hadn’t done it, the interns would be considered employees and would be entitled to compensation.
  • Be sure to decide on a fixed duration for the internship before its onset
  • And finally, do not use the internship as a trial period for those seeking employment at the end of the internship.  If the intern is placed with the expectation of being hired on a permanent basis, the intern would be considered an employee under the FLSA.

It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.  If your interns don’t meet the above requirements, they are employees, not interns, and should be paid.

Protect your company from lawsuits like the one Mr. Letterman faced.  Classify your interns and employees correctly, and pay them if required.

It’s not too late.

*On September 10, the lawsuit was dropped, discontinued “in its entirety without prejudice”.  It would be possible to file again in the future.

Considering offering an unpaid internship?  Call managestaff.  We’ll help.


It’s what we do.

image: grauer codrin/