Unpaid Internship? Are You Being Taken Advantage of By Your Employer?

Regardless of experience, those providing a service deserve to be compensated for the time that they devote to the task. While the type of compensation may differ, there is always an exchange to be made. These rules don’t change at the internship level. However, many unpaid interns are being taken advantage of due to the lack of clarity on this issue. While unpaid internships are not illegal, the state of California has strict guidelines that employers must abide by when bringing an intern on to their team. 


California Legal Requirements


Both California and the Federal Government have laws in place to protect the rights of unpaid interns. According to the U.S. Department of Labor and the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement, the following requirements must all be met for an intern to remain unpaid. If the requirements are not met, the intern is considered an employee of the company, must be compensated with minimum wage, and must receive the protections granted by law. 


Internship requirements state: 


  1. The intern cannot take the place of a regular employee. This requires that the intern work closely under an employee of the company and not complete all of the work of a typical employee. 
  2. The intern is not guaranteed or promised a position within the company following the end of their internship program. 
  3. The intern must have a clear understanding that there is no monetary compensation for their work during their internship. 
  4. The intern must undergo training from the company as a part of a training protocol in alignment with what would be taught in a vocational school or other training program
  5. The intern must be trained in all aspects of the industry – not specific to the company at which the internship is being held
  6. The intern must receive the majority of the benefit from the internship, not the company, with the chance that the training impedes on the company’s work or timeline

After completing an internship, the intern should walk away with training and experience that can be used to further their career and make up for the time dedicated to the program. All too often, companies take advantage of interns and expect them to complete work that solely benefits the company, leaving the intern without valuable lessons to take with them in their career. As an unpaid intern, you have rights afforded to you. If you believe your internship violated the protected California laws, contact Jibit Cinar and the employment attorneys at Gokal Law Group to discuss your options. Visit our contact page or give us a call at 949-753-9100.

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