Internships are often a good way for college students and others to gain experience in a field, such as film or journalism, in the hopes of getting a full-time job after graduation. Some of these internships include a salary, stipend, or course credit, but many interns essentially work for free. While some students might be willing to make such a sacrifice in order to gain experience or contacts, unpaid internships might violate state or federal labor laws. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and other laws provide guidelines to help identify when employers must pay interns at least minimum wage, and multiple pending lawsuits are seeking to enforce interns' right to compensation for their work.
The FLSA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., has a very broad definition of "employ," describing it as "to suffer or permit to work." 29 U.S.C. § 203(g). It allows exceptions for individuals volunteering for charitable groups and other nonprofit organizations, but generally nearly anyone working for a for-profit company may be considered "employed." The U.S. Department of Labor has developed a set of guidelines for determining whether an internship falls under the FLSA's coverage regarding overtime compensation and minimum wage. An internship program that meets these six criteria is not subject to FLSA requirements:
1. The internship resembles a training program in an educational institution;
2. The purpose of the internship is to benefit the intern;
3. The employer does not benefit directly from the intern's experience;
4. The intern works under existing employees and does not displace them;
5. The employer makes no promise or representation of a job after the internship; and
6. Both the employer and the intern understand and agree that the intern will not receive compensation for the internship.