A recent decision by a New York federal judge has raised a number of issues concerning unpaid internships. It was decided in this case that two interns working on the set of the film Black Swan should have been paid, given that the work they accomplished did not meet the six criteria used for determining that an internship may be unpaid, as published in a fact sheet by the U.S. Department of Labor (which are interestingly the same criteria published by the Ontario Ministry of Labour):
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.
The judge found that the interns basically did the same work as paid employees. Other lawsuits have been commenced in the United States regarding unpaid internships.
In this summer season when many young people wish to gain experience and may accept unpaid internships, what should the status of unpaid interships be? Provincial employment standards legislation may exclude trainees who are part of a vocational training program from minimum wage provisions; however, it is not always clear how other types of unpaid internships are treated across the board. There seems to be just as many arguments for unpaid internships (contacts, gaining precious experience, etc.), as there are against (immoral, they skew the market, etc.) . What do you think?