Unpaid internships in California and the rest of the United States have been on the rise among college students and graduates since the country’s economy took a nosedive in 2008. Unpaid labor in violation of wage and hour laws set out by the U.S. Department of Labor is often misclassified as an “internship” or a “trainee” position.

Last year, former interns of Fox Entertainment and Gawker Media successfully sued these companies for placing interns in real job positions without corresponding pay. These lawsuits resulted in a positive outcome and managed to gain national attention due to the fact that these two companies receive high profits and were clearly using interns when they could have hired full-time employees for the same tasks. Unfortunately, there are thousands of smaller and less lucrative companies in the country that continue to illegally offer unpaid jobs and internships without reproach.

For an unpaid internship to be legal, the position must comply with set requirements, which include that the intern does not displace employees who would otherwise be paid for the same work, the intern must derive at least as much benefit from the work performed as the employer and the employer may not promise the intern a paid position in exchange for the internship.

While some internships may in fact provide beneficial training to students or graduates, many employers will use the guise of an “internship” to acquire unpaid assistants and secretaries who may do no more than file papers. Illegally unpaid interns may wish to obtain the services of an employment law attorney to see whether they have a viable case against their employers for employment law violations.

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