The federal government has new rules about unpaid internships. According to an article by Sara Lipka in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

For interns to work for private companies without compensation, the Labor Department says, their positions must meet six criteria.

First, “the internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.”

The Labor Department’s statement further clarifies… noting, “the more an internship program is structured around a classroom or academic experience as opposed to the employer’s actual operations, the more likely the internship will be viewed as an extension of the individual’s educational experience.”

The five other criteria further clarify the nature of an unpaid internship at a for-profit company, emphasizing that interns cannot displace real employees and the internships do not necessarily lead to actual employment. As the Department of Labor explains, however:

Internships in the “for-profit” private sector will most often be viewed as employment, unless the [six criteria] relating to trainees is met. Interns in the “for-profit” private sector who qualify as employees rather than trainees typically must be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a workweek.

Historically, job apprenticeships, like in the Middle Ages, lasted several years and trained people for specific skills, mostly in the trades. “Intern” used to be used only in the medical profession to describe people who had earned their degrees but didn’t yet have licenses to practice medicine. Today’s professional internship didn’t really exist until the 1960s and didn’t become standard/essential to launching a professional career until, probably, the 1990s.

The rules for unpaid interns at nonprofits are typically more lenient, in part because of the expectation that these institutions will benefit from volunteers.

A few states, including California, require interns to obtain college credit from their internships. Interns who do not receive college credit must be paid like regular employees.[Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer