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Might Be Time to Rethink Unpaid Internships

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

A major publishing company has revised its mandates for unpaid interns, in an apparent response to recent unpaid internship lawsuits. Should your small business follow suit?

Unpaid interns have sued Hearst Corporation and Fox Searchlight Pictures for allegedly violating wage and labor laws. The companies failed to follow federal standards for unpaid internships, the lawsuits claim.

Now Condé Nast, a division of New York-based Advance Publications, has issued seven new mandates for its unpaid internships, The Atlantic reports. The mandates state that interns:

  • Can't stay at the company for more than one semester per calendar year, unless cleared by Human Resources.
  • Must complete an HR orientation about where to report mistreatment or unreasonably long hours.
  • Can only work until 7 p.m.
  • Must receive college credit for the internship.
  • Must be assigned to an official mentor.
  • Must only work on tasks related to their internship assignment; personal errands are not allowed.
  • Will be paid stipends of about $550 per semester.

The mandate against personal errands conforms to the Department of Labor's unpaid internship guidelines. Interns must be given tasks that benefit them, and receive training similar to what would be given in an educational environment, the guidelines state.

The rule requiring a mentor also mirrors a federal guideline that interns be closely supervised by a staff member.

But the company's other new mandates don't seem to address the Department of Labor's criteria for unpaid internships at all. The Atlantic even went so far as to call the reforms an "empty gesture."

Bottom line: If you're thinking about revising your unpaid internships, the federal guidelines may be a better place to start than Condé Nast's new rules. You may also want to consult an employment attorney to make sure your unpaid interns are legal.

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