Unpaid Internships Must Be Educational To Be Legal

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(File photo: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

(File photo: 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) - Are unpaid internships legal if the student gets college credit for it?

Students of a New Jersey Beauty School have sued the school because to graduate, the students needed 300 hours of classroom time, and 900 hours of salon work. In other words, the school not only got students to sweep the floors of the salon in
addition to doing hair, nails, and makeup, it also got paid by the clients for the students’ services and, on top of it, charged the students for the credits they received for doing the work.

Ingenious. Also, possibly unlawful.

The unpaid internship has long been the way that students have gotten something to put on their resume: yes, they did grunt work for long hours at no pay, but they got a good letter of recommendation for a real job. Recent court decisions have made it clear that if a company wants to hire unpaid interns, it has to provide educational training to the intern for no real benefit to the company.

But what about school programs that offer credit in exchange for experience? On the one hand, you can see how a student could be used for the most menial of tasks. On the other hand, no one wants a haircut from someone who’s never used a pair of scissors on an actual head before.

This one is up to the courts to decide.

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