Are You Being Taken Advantage of in an Unpaid Internship?

If so, it’s time to act.

It’s hard to believe it’s back-to-school season already. Summer break has come to an end as college students across the country move back to their dorms or apartments.

Many of these students will take up an unpaid internship during their spare time. These positions can be a great way to get on-the-job training and experience.

However, what if you start your unpaid internship and notice that you’re not learning anything? You aren’t given much (if any) direction, and the only time your manager asks for your help is when he needs furniture moved or a window washed.

Is this normal, or are you being taken advantage of? Look for these warning signs.

Your Manager Isn’t Interested in Changing

You sit down with your manager and make your concerns known. You tell them you don’t feel comfortable with tasks that aren’t related to your desired profession, as you aren’t learning anything useful.

Perhaps your manager rolls their eyes, and says they’ll find you other work. Or they apologize and promise they’ll remedy the situation. But regardless of what they say, nothing really changes. This is a major red flag, as it shows that your manager may just see you as free labor.

Your Work Has Nothing to do with Your Field of Study

If you interviewed on a certain set of criteria related to your major or minor (such as marketing, accounting, finance, etc.), and now you’re spending all your time grabbing coffee, answering phones, or printing documents, that’s a problem. Although some of these responsibilities could be expected of any job, you aren’t here as a fulltime employee.

An unpaid internship is not unpaid labor. As an intern, you’re there to learn about your field. If that isn’t happening, you shouldn’t be there.

In fact, there are legal guidelines business must follow for unpaid internships.

The Position Fails the Primary Beneficiary Test

In order for an unpaid internship to be legal, the intern must be the “primary beneficiary,” meaning that they are the party that benefits most from the arrangement. But what determines which party benefits the most?

As noted by Business News Daily, the Department of Labor created the flexible seven-part Primary Beneficiary Test to determine whether an unpaid internship is legal.

The test states that an intern must be a primary beneficiary by the extent to which:

  1. The intern is aware that they will be uncompensated.
  2. Training is comparable to training received at an educational institution.
  3. The internship is tied to the intern’s current educational program (e.g., with academic credit).
  4. The internship accommodates that intern’s academic calendar.
  5. The internship is limited to the period during which the intern receives beneficial learning.
  6. The intern’s work complements (not replaces) existing employees’ work, while still providing beneficial learning.
  7. It is understood that the internship does not provide entitlement to a job at its conclusion.

If a study of these seven points determines that the employer is the primary beneficiary, the intern is entitled to minimum wage. Although this determination can be extremely subjective, if you find that any of these points don’t line up with your experience, even if your position is paid, it may be time to quit, or find an internship that better aligns with your education goals.

Have you ever been treated unfairly in an unpaid internship? Let us know in the comments section below!

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