Interns Must Be Paid In Valuable Experience Or Money

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(File photo.  Credit: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

(File photo. Credit: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - If you think that making copies and getting coffee is an unpaid intern’s dream, think again.

When a federal judge ruled this summer that simply being on the set of the creepy, confusing movie Black Swan in 2010 wasn’t its own reward (as anyone who sat in the audience of the movie once it was made could tell you), but that unpaid interns at Fox Searchlight Pictures should have been paid for their work there, it opened the floodgates for lawsuits brought against employers who dress up grunt work as an unpaid internships.

Companies across the country have long used the promise of a good recommendation as a benefit in lieu of salary, but this is what you need to know: under the law, an internship can only be unpaid if it is primarily meant for the benefit of the intern – not as free labor for the company. Rather, the work must be for the intern’s educational benefit.

And, while being near professionals certainly is educational, companies may have a hard time proving that in court so companies may want to think about paying interns the minimum wage – $7.25 in most states – less than the cost of a terrible movie – rather than risk a costly lawsuit.

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