Can an employer have me work as an
No, unless they meet a strict criteria. Under the law, a company can have an unpaid internship program only if all of the following six criteria are met:
The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment, such as when a college gives the intern credit for the internship;
The internship is for the benefit of the intern;
The intern does not take the place of a regular employee, and works under close supervision;
The organization derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
The organization and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
If all of the factors listed above are met, then the intern is not entitled to minimum wage and overtime. Otherwise, the intern is entitled to wages.
Often, companies seek to obtain free labor from individuals they call interns, even though they do not meet the strict test outlined above. When that happens, the interns can sue the companies for unpaid wages. For example, the NY Times recently reported that a former unpaid intern who occasionally worked as many as 55 hours a week as an intern just sued the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar.
If you would like more information about when unpaid interns are entitled to pay, please contact us.