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Unpaid Work. How Not to Break the Law?

Unpaid work is work that produces goods and services but which carries no direct remuneration or other forms of payment like housework or care work. An internship is the most common type of unpaid work. An internship is understood as the period during which someone works for a company to get experience or work at the end of the internship. Unpaid work may also include work that is done by a volunteer. Volunteer work carried out by an individual is work done to benefit another person. Volunteers, therefore, do not have to be paid. 

Other persons who are for example used by companies to save on remuneration costs are not interns and should, therefore, be compensated as per the agreements between the organization and such persons, or at least the minimum wage.

According to the Department of Labor, six factors make an internship legal. These include:

  • No immediate advantage

The employer who provides the training equipment no direct benefit from the activities of the intern, and on occasion, its operations may be affected. The interpretation of this condition is open for discussion. One argument is that the employer can only determine the immediate advantage derived from the internship and as such making this condition difficult to determine for certain.

  • No job guarantee after

The intern is usually not entitled to a job at the completion of the internship. An intern’s benefits extend only to the duration of the internship and should, therefore, make an effort to gain as many skills and connection during the internship. Any long-term employment that may arise from the internship is treated as an independent agreement between the employer and the intern.

  • Training Environment

The internship even though it includes the facilities’ operations of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an environment fit for education. The internship is tied to intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credentials.

  • It benefits the intern

The benefit of the placement should be to the actual intern. The internship should, therefore, provide meaningful learning experience skills and training. The intern, on the other hand, should make an effort to benefit as much as possible from the internship.

  • An intern is closely supervised

An intern should not displace the work of paid employees but instead should complement work of the other employees of the company. The other employees should merely provide supervisory roles which would benefit the intern.

  • An intern is aware that there is no payment

The intern should understand that during the period of the placement there would not be any compensation for the work they do. An arrangement may be made where the intern is compensated. The intern is however still not entitled to any form of payment.

An exception to the conditions provided by the Department of Labor is the unpaid trials. Unpaid trials, sometimes referred to as work trials, are brief work periods that help the organization determine the suitability of a person to a job. Unpaid trials can be legal if they are performed exclusively to identify an employees’ suitability for a job. Other factors such as the period the trial may take will depend on the ease or complexity of the skill being investigated. During the entire trial period, a person should be under the supervision of the staff of the company.

In conclusion, for any unpaid work performed by a person to gain skills should be intended to benefit the unpaid person. An organization that provides such unpaid work should be able to provide skills that would benefit the unpaid worker while making an effort to uphold the intern’s or other unpaid worker’s rights.

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