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The Truth About Unpaid Internships in California

Are you an unpaid intern who deserves to be paid fair wages? Many California employers take the seemingly less expensive route of hiring “free labor” in the form of unpaid internships, cutting hundreds if not thousands of individuals out of hard-earned paychecks, when in fact, the duties these interns are performing are those of an actual paid employee. These employers are committing wage and hour violations against hard working men and women just like you.

How do you know if your unpaid internship is also unjust, meaning you should be compensated appropriately for the work you are performing? First, know that California law is on your side. In addition to the requirements set forth by the Department of Labor under federal law, California requires that an additional handful of factors be met in order for your Orange County employer to ‘get away with’ not paying you.

The requirements of an unpaid internship according to the Department of Labor:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

In plain English, the first two factors mean that the primary purpose of your internship must be your educational benefit. Is your current employer providing you with an opportunity to learn about the business in which you are working, or just requiring that you work hard for no pay?

Additionally, under California law:

  • Your internship should be part of an educational curriculum.
  • Your training should be general to the industry and allow for you to qualify for work in a similar business.
  • Your hiring process should be based on criteria relevant for admission into an independent educational program.

If you have read or seen any advertisements or job postings for internships, they should clearly describe the position as educational or training-based rather than employment.

whether knowingly or unknowingly, many Orange County employers do not follow the rules about unpaid internships set forth by federal and state law. If you have been working as an unpaid intern and your internship does not meet any of the requirements set forth above, you may be entitled financial compensation. Contact the experienced Orange County employment lawyers at Hardin & Associates today to discuss your legal rights and potential for financial recovery.