When to NOT pay interns, redux

A US Federal judge has ruled that against the company that made the movie “The Black Swan” for not paying interns.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said the film’s producers should have paid the two interns because they did the same work as regular employees, provided value to the company and performed low-level tasks that didn’t require any specialized training. In ruling for the interns, the judge followed a six-part test outlined by the Labor Department for determining whether an internship can be unpaid. Under the test, the internship must be similar to an educational environment, run primarily for the benefit of the intern as opposed to the employer, and the intern’s work should not replace that of regular employees.

“Undoubtedly Mr. Glatt and Mr. Footman received some benefits from their internships, such as resume listings, job references and an understanding of how a production office works,” Pauley wrote. “But those benefits were incidental to working in the office like any other employees and were not the result of internships intentionally structured to benefit them.”

I tried to warn you! I did! I tried to warn you in my blog When to NOT pay interns and my other blog Are Interns Exploited?.

Note that this was NOT a matter of the organization being volunteered for being a for-profit. That this was a company, a business, rather than a nonprofit, NGO or charity, was NOT the problem for the judge. The problem was the nature of the work these unpaid interns (these VOLUNTEERS) were doing and the reason these tasks were done by volunteers (to save the organization money!).

Nonprofits, NGOs, charities: WAKE UP. This kind of lawsuit could happen to you. Especially if you keep harping on the dollar/Euro value of volunteer hours, the way UN Volunteers, IFRC, ILO & others are encouraging you to do.

Here’s a better idea: create a mission (and a mission statement) for your volunteer involvement and live it! State explicitly why your organization reserves certain assignments for volunteers, to guide employees and volunteers in how they think about volunteers, to guide current volunteers in thinking about their role and value at the organization, and to show potential volunteers the kind of culture they can expect at your organization regarding volunteers. It will also help to prevent exploitation – or perceptions of such – regarding your involvement of volunteers. Let it be an answer to this question: “Why do volunteers do these tasks rather than paid people” but without the answer, “Because we can’t afford to pay people to do this work.”

My previous blogs on this subject:

Note that the links within these blogs may not work, as I moved all of my blogs from Posterous to WordPress a few months ago, and it broke all of the internal links. Also, some web pages on other organization’s sites have moved since I linked to such, and I either don’t know or haven’t been able to find a new location for the material.

One thought on “When to NOT pay interns, redux

  1. Amy Kelly

    Wow, just amazing food for thought here. Thanks for sharing it. I’ve decided I need to come up with a statement for our hospice, just in case this were to ever happen to us.

    Thanks for sharing it!


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