Are Unpaid Internships Legal?

August 17th, 2019

Many Minnesota high school and college students have taken unpaid internships in hopes of gaining experience that will make them eligible for a paid job. Internships are often given for college credit or a stipend, but sometimes companies simply offer the thrill of the opportunity as compensation.

This practice has recently come under scrutiny, as more and more former interns speak up about the long hours and difficult job duties that now characterize unpaid internships, saying that they are doing the work of full-time employees and should be compensated.

A recent lawsuit filed by several interns who worked for Fox Entertainment Group has brought this question to the forefront. The interns worked for Fox Searchlight on various elements of the production of the film Black Swan. The interns say that they had all of the job duties and contractual obligations of full-time employees, but without the pay. The interns say that along with a variety of job duties like production assistance, secretarial work, and bookkeeping, they were also required to sign tax forms and confidentiality agreements with Fox.

Recently the lawsuit went from a class action pertaining only to interns for Fox Searchlight to encompass interns who worked in any part of the entertainment conglomerate before they began compensating interns in July 2010.

The lawsuit alleges that Fox’s policies violated federal wage and hour laws set forth in the Fair Labor Standards Act. That law allows unpaid internships for educational purposes but states clearly that unpaid interns cannot replace paid employees.

More information about employee rights in Minnesota is available on our employment law website.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Fox’s Entire Internship Program Now Under Legal Attack” Eriq Gardner, Aug. 13, 2012.

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