Intern rules less strict for nonprofits

Published: Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 28, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.

Q: Last week you suggested that all interns should be paid minimum wage unless they meet the six criteria outlined by the DOL fact sheet 71.

This is true. But I think it's important to emphasize that this only applies to for-profit organizations. The fact sheet does mention exemptions for those working at nonprofits and government agencies.

A: Yes. To reiterate, any for-profit enterprise that wishes to have unpaid interns needs to make sure its internship programs meet the six criteria outlined by the DOL, including that the training's main purpose be educational and the experience mostly benefit the intern.

Although there are many excellent such programs out there, especially those sponsored by schools in partnership with companies, in my opinion the great majority of unpaid internships at for-profit organizations don't meet this criteria, and should be paid internships. Thus all the lawsuits popping up.

However, you're right and make a good point about the rules not being as stringent for nonprofits and government agencies. The DOL "makes a special exception under certain circumstances for individuals who volunteer their time, freely and without anticipation of compensation for religious, charitable, civic, or humanitarian purposes to nonprofit organizations. Unpaid internships ... where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation, are generally permissible."

I will note, however, that this is (literally) an asterisked footnote on the DOL fact sheet, and that their language is not exactly definitive ("under certain circumstances, generally permissible").

So I wouldn't consider this a green light for nonprofits to never worry about whether or not to pay their interns. Not to mention that just because something is legal doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

I believe interns should be paid something for their work. That's why I'd encourage anyone who has unpaid interns (in private sector) or intern volunteers in (nonprofit sector) to at least consider a "stipend."

Even though these interns may not be entitled to minimum wage doesn't mean they can't receive a stipend. Although a "stipend can't substitute for compensation and must not be tied to productivity or hours worked." it adds credibility to the activity and acknowledges the value of the experience for all involved.

Think about it.

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