Column: Know your rights as an intern this summer

The time has come. The great summer internship search is underway. Students have packed up their credentials into a one-page essay and shined their shoes for interviews.

Career Services has sent out emails and hosted events and one-on-one sessions with students to help them find meaningful work for the summer.

Once they find their perfect internship, students sacrifice their paying jobs of cleaning bathrooms and making greasy food (hopefully not in that order) for an unpaid internship, with the hope that they will learn something and, fingers crossed, get their foot in the door for a future job.

While students may take all the right steps in getting their dream internship, there may be a problem with the workload expectation.

There is a fine line between the work of an intern and the work of a full-time employee. Many students go into their internship experience expecting to get coffee for the boss or file papers, and some do, but others may end up with the workload of a full-time employee and none of the benefits.

Especially with the recent layoffs, the prospect of a young, eager student willing to do anything for a chance to prove themselves may be too much of a temptation for employers struggling to make ends meet.

While young adults looking for any sort of work in their field are willing to overlook this, the Department of Labor is not.

The Department of Labor established six criteria under the Fair Labor Standards Act to test if a student can work as an unpaid intern.

1. The internship, even though it involves work for the company, must be similar to training that would be given in an educational environment.

2. The intern benefits from the experience.

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

4. The intern’s activities have no immediate benefits for the employer and on occasion may actually impede operations.

5. The intern is not entitled to a job at the end of the internship.

6. Both the employer and intern understand that the intern will not be paid for time spent in the internship.

The more similar an internship experience is to an educational environment, the more likely the internship is seen as an extension of the educational experience, according to the Department of Labor’s website. Basically, the more an internship is like training, the less likely it is that the employer will get sued and the intern will lose his or her summer work.

Emily Steele is a junior journalism major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]