Consider the ball officially rolling: another intern is suing. Lucy Bickerton, a former intern at the Charlie Rose show, worked 25 hours per week, without pay. Her law firm, Outten & Golden (the same one that's representing Xuedan Wang's suit with Hearst), is hoping to turn the suit into a class action for all the show's unpaid interns as far back as March 2006.
As the lawsuit notes, "an unpaid internship is only lawful in the context of an educational training program, when the interns do not perform productive work and the employer derives no benefit.”"
But some are claiming that this stipulation, taken from the Department Of Labor's factsheet on Internship Programs, was originally intended to apply to blue collar work, which was mainly what young workers were "interning" when the laws originated.
With much of today's companies running on less-concretely defined "intellectual labor," so to speak, it can be difficult to say which activities are to the employee's benefit, and which are to the company's. After all, it's important for interns to actually perform tasks if they're going to learn them.
The problems are more clearly defined with a closer look at the benefits of those tasks, for the company. If work doesn't involve much training—like reception duties, or filling in spreadsheets, it's probably not in the intern's best interests to be doing it.
Ditto for work that's clearly an important job function for a paid employee—such as "receptionist": if you're likely replacing a paid employee (as in, you can literally turn your tasks into a job title) consider the $30,000+ annually you're saving the company a clear-cut benefit. For them.
For more info on internship guidelines, check out the Department of Labor's page—and stay tuned for more lawsuit news.
--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com
Are Unpaid Internships Fair?
The Other Problem With Unpaid Internships
Department of Labor: Internship Guidelines