One of the main reasons we founded this firm was because so few people (employers and interns alike) are aware that many unpaid interns are actually covered by wage laws, just like any other employee. This lack of awareness is what drives the widespread use of unpaid interns as free labor in our country, and increasing knowledge about this issue is one the primary goals of our firm’s practice.

Unless an internship program meets specific legal requirements (see “Test Your Internship” on our homepage), the law requires that all interns must be paid.

The Department of Labor (DOL) looks at six factors, all of which must be met, when determining whether an internship must be paid, but the ones most often violated are listed below:

The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff; and most importantly
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;
What this means is that if your internship consisted of you doing work that your employer didn’t want to do, didn’t have time to do, or didn’t know how to do (from running the company’s errands to running the company’s social media) you most likely should have been paid.

How much you stand to gain if you were illegally unpaid depends completely on how many hours you worked, just like any other hourly employee. The more hours you worked, the more you earned. That simple.

An illegally unpaid intern under federal law is entitled to back-wages (regular pay and overtime, if applicable) and “double damages,” as well as attorneys fees and costs. On top of that, interns in some states are entitled to additional damages under state law.

It is the employer’s legal responsibility, not yours, to keep records of the hours you worked. However many hours you recollect working is the starting point for calculating damages–the burden of proving how many hours you actually worked is on the employer.

An illegally unpaid intern, like any other employee covered by minimum wage laws, cannot agree to work for less than minimum wage.

The whole purpose of minimum wage law is to protect people with little to no bargaining power from having to “agree” to substandard wages, and courts have repeatedly and explicitly ruled that any agreement in violation of these laws is completely null and void.

No, it doesn’t matter–industry practice is no defense to minimum wage violation. The fact that so many people are violating the law does not make it any more acceptable or legal.
Probably, but there is a statute of limitations (an “expiration date,” of sorts), so you will want to act as soon as possible. Under federal law, an unpaid internship lawsuit must be filed within 2 years of the failure to pay earned wages, or 3 years if there is evidence that your employer willfully violated the law. States vary as to the statute of limitations on state wage claims.
Surprisingly, recent research indicates that unpaid internships actually “offer no advantage to the job-seeking student.” So, while you might feel you’re taking a real risk if you demand wages for your internship, in reality, you might be risking nothing at all.

Since we recognize that some interns hesitate to assert their right to wages out of concern for its impact on their job prospects, we are very sensitive to this issue, and make it a top priority to get clients paid for their internships, while neutralizing any possible impact on their future employment (for instance, by making letters of recommendation and confidentiality agreements a condition of settlement).

Our commitment is to achieving the best possible outcome for our client, looking at the situation as a whole. As each individual’s case is different, we work with our client to creatively develop a tailored approach that works for them and their individual needs.

Have a question? We are happy to discuss your personal situation with you–all consultations are completely confidential and 100% free, always–and we never proceed with anything until we go over every option with you.

We are committed to empowering interns to assert their rights without risk. As such, we are always ready to discuss your case with you and answer any questions you might have about your internship program or your possible claims. All consultations are completely free, confidential and non-binding.

We understand that unpaid interns cannot afford to pay an attorney to fight for them, and therefore take cases on a contingency basis.

This means simply that if you do not get paid, we do not get paid.

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We have listed here some of the most frequently asked questions. If you have questions about your specific case, please contact us to discuss your case further. All answers are general, and should not be taken as legal advice for a particular case, as much depends on the actual facts of each individual case. Nothing written here implies any representation on behalf of Schneider & Rubin.