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Unpaid internships come under fire

A series of labor lawsuits against Fox Entertainment and Gawker Media has sparked new concern regarding unpaid internships, which are a common way for college students in Michigan and elsewhere to gain industry experience. The companies were sued by former interns who alleged that they were owed back pay for their service. Many have responded in support, agreeing that unpaid internships are exploitation and abuse at best. Others add that unpaid internships create a division between those who can afford to work for free and those who cannot.

Guidelines established by the Department of Labor require that interns may only work without pay if the work would not be otherwise done by paid employees and if the training received is similar to that offered by an academic institution. The rules further state that employers may not get "immediate advantage from the activities of the intern" and that sometimes, "its operations may actually be impeded." Critics argue that even the lowest of jobs are valuable to employers and employee rights should extend to students as well.

According to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, internships are not even worth the time. Their data suggests that students who complete unpaid internships have no better job prospects than those who do not complete them. Some educators argue that not all unpaid internships are bad and that students should consider factors including potential employment connections, specialized work experience and whether the company can actually afford to pay for the work.

While all unpaid internships aren't bad, some companies may be looking for free labor. An employment law attorney may be able to represent interns who have been taken advantage of in this way. The lawyer may be able to determine whether Michigan law allows for a lawsuit to be filed and determine an amount of compensation to be pursued.

Source: Mainstreet.com, "Are Unpaid Internships Mere Exploitation?", Eric Reed, July 03, 2013

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