Is Your Internship Illegal

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BY Diana Elbasha>Sophomore>Journalism>University of Maryland, College Park

In this economy, students will do just about anything for a job after graduation. Unfortunately, employers aren’t just looking for someone with a diploma; they want someone who had 25 different internships. They’re looking for a resume that stands out.

“Nowadays, it’s not just about the 4.0 GPA. It’s the 3.75 with great experience,” says J. Saleh Williams, a congressional staffer who oversees hundreds of interns every year.
But recently it seems as though some employers who offer internships are violating provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which aims to ensure fair hours and wages for American workers. That unpaid, 40-hour a week internship you just accepted? Yeah, it might be a bit illegal. Here are some steps to ensure you get at least some buck for your bang:
Do your homework. Find out what you’re getting into. You should ask questions during interviews to get more information. Don’t hesitate to ask if the internship is unpaid, and if it is, ask if they offer college credit. Research the company. Check out its credibility by researching it online, or by asking your parents, school counselors or professors. Your college’s career center is also a great place to find legitimate internships, and to research employers who have already offered you a position.
Whats in it for you? Pick an environment you enjoy, and one that will give you useful experience. Will you be working with other interns? How will the work be divided? What exactly will your duties be? Is the work interesting and useful? These are all questions you should have answers to before you accept a position. You don’t want to be placed somewhere where you’re bored, but you also don’t want to be overwhelmed.
Know Your Rights. Don’t shut out unpaid positions – but know your rights. In some cases, it is actually illegal to offer unpaid positions. In April, the Labor Department published Factsheet #71, which lists six criteria that a position must fulfill to legally offer an unpaid “internship.”
For example, if an intern is performing work that an employee would normally do, he or she is entitled to a salary, says Dolline Hatchett, the Department’s director of public affairs. If you are working without pay, make sure that you’re receiving benefits in another form (such as college credit).
If these rules are being violated, then you – the intern – have rights not only to a salary, but to speak out about being mistreated.
“College students are poor, in need of money and status,” explains Georgina Capetillo, a paid intern at the American Youth Work Center. Just because students are willing to work hard for something as little as the chance to put the experience on our resumes doesn’t mean employers should be allowed to abuse our work.
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College Magazine Staff

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