November 30, 2016
By Michael Gottlieb


Despite setbacks and mishaps earlier in the year, things have been going well for Bill Wiseacre. Uh Oh Enterprises has continued to take on more companies as consulting clients, and revenue was becoming more steady. Bill finally felt like he was hitting his stride… Until his administrative assistant, Jane, gave him notice that she would need to take an extended leave of absence to take care of her sick father.

Bill understood the importance of his employee tending to a family member, and appreciated Jane’s advance notice. But eight weeks?! He didn’t want to go through the hurdles of hiring a temp to provide coverage for Jane’s role for such a short time; nor did he really want to pay someone else at all.

Sitting at his desk and thinking about his situation, he remembered his sister sending him an email recently—something about an internship program. That’s it! He could post an ad online to find a student to intern for the eight weeks Jane would be out. He’d have office coverage, and the student would get some real-world professional experience.

Bill received several emails responding to his ad for an intern. He interviewed many of the applicants, including Trisha Towson, a student nearing completion of her Associate’s degree at the local community college. She hoped to major in Business upon transferring to one of the nearby universities for the following academic year.

During the interview, Bill told Trisha that the internship was unpaid. But, she would still have the chance to get professional experience that would help her find other work.  Bill mentioned that he was thinking of hiring a new employee sometime soon. He thought he was just making conversation, but Trisha thought she might have a chance at the position, if she did well in her role as an intern.

When Bill finished interviewing applicants for the position, Trisha was his first choice. Sure enough, on her first day, Trisha immediately figured out the phone systems, and was attentive to the ins and outs of the administrative functions at Uh Oh. She excelled in her administrative role, answering phones, sorting mail, making copies, and performing whatever other administrative tasks that needed to be done. Trisha was personable but focused on her tasks, allowing Bill to mostly keep to himself and concentrate on his own work.

The weeks came and went, and things were going smoothly at Uh Oh Enterprises, despite Jane’s absence. A week before Jane was to return, Bill scheduled interviews with several potential candidates for the new associate position at Uh Oh. When Trisha noticed these on Bill’s calendar, she asked Bill if he would consider her as a candidate for the position, as well. Bill told Trisha that while she had been exemplary as an intern, that he already had an administrative assistant, and the associate position required at least a Bachelor’s degree. Furious, Trisha walked out, feeling as though she had been misled, and had wasted her time.

Trisha had assumed that she would get the job at Uh Oh Enterprises upon the completion of her internship based upon the consistently excellent feedback she’d received from Bill. Additionally, because she’d not been paid for her time thus far, Trisha thought it only seemed fair that she’d get a paying job at the end of the internship.

About a week after the end of the internship, Trisha was still feeling angry, so she sent Bill an email asking, “Shouldn’t I have gotten paid for my work?”

Hoping to get her to back down, he wrote a check for $500 and mailed it to her.


The Momentum Law Group Perspective:

  • The Department of Labor generally relies upon a six-part test to determine whether an unpaid internship is appropriate or whether the intern should be classified as an employee and paid at least the minimum wage.
  • Among other criteria, an internship experience should be a hands-on learning environment for the intern, rather than simply work done for the employer. If the internship benefits the employer and offers no real training to the intern, this should raise a red flag to the employer that an unpaid internship may not be appropriate.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor. (April 2010). Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act. Retreived from https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm.

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