College students in San Diego and throughout the entire state of California might expect to not be paid while working as an intern. Although no one really wants to work for free, many college students choose to pursue internships in order to get the experience they need in the workplace before they look for full-time jobs after graduating from college.
But with more students willing to work for free in today's competitive job market, some argue that businesses are taking advantage of unpaid interns and breaking state and federal wage and hour laws in the process. Unpaid interns oftentimes work nearly full-time hours and handle similar responsibilities as employees. But instead of classifying these individuals as employees, they are classified as interns so that companies can avoid providing the individuals with wage and insurance benefits.
In an effort to challenge one employer's practices of allegedly taking advantage of interns, a former unpaid intern for Harper's Bazaar filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the fashion magazine's parent company, Hearst Corporation. The lawsuit claims that she was working full-time but was never compensated for her contributions to the company.
According to the lawsuit, the woman began her internship at Harper's Bazaar in August 2010. Her internship did not end until December 2011. During that time, she worked about 40 hours a week coordinating the pickups and deliveries of fashion samples. She also assigned other interns tasks to carry out during the week. However, she was never paid for her work.
The lawsuit claims that Hearst violated wage and hour laws because the woman should have been classified as an employee instead of an intern. Under guidelines from the United States Labor Department, it is only legal to classify an individual as an unpaid intern if the individual's tasks at the company are part of an educational training program. The company cannot immediately benefit from the unpaid intern's work and an unpaid intern cannot displace an employee.
The woman hopes to spark a class action lawsuit against Hearst on behalf of hundreds of other interns who are allegedly working full-time hours with no pay at the company. In addition to publishing Harper's Bazaar, Hearst also publishes Cosmopolitan, Seventeen and Good Housekeeping.
Source: The New York Times, "Former Intern Sues Over Unpaid Work and Hopes to Create a Class Action," Steven Greenhouse, Feb. 1, 2012