Legality of unpaid internships in dispute

Companies often try to take on interns as it is an opportunity for aspiring professionals to gain work experience and undertake some valuable networking. Indeed, an internship can even lead to a full-time job. Importantly, employers have a responsibility towards interns, and they are not to serve as a substitute for ordinary staff.

With the economic crisis, competition is not only high for ordinary jobs, but companies have also seen a rise in applications for unpaid internships. Two Americans were last year disappointed when their unpaid internships for a multi-million dollar company failed to boost their professional experience.

Hollywood interns

Alex Footman and Eric Glatt undertook internships at Fox Searchlight, but were disappointed with their experience during which they interned on the set of the film "The Black Swan". The movie was shot in New York, and was an ample opportunity for Footman and Glatt to get a foot in the door of the film industry, but their hopes were shattered when they were left to carry out menial tasks. The two interns felt that Fox had not conformed to US law, and subsequently sued the company.

The plaintiffs argue that their internships were contrary to US law in that they did not provide them with any educational experience, and that their assigned tasks would usually have been carried out by paid staff. They claim that their daily duties mostly consisted of activities such as ordering food and taking care of any trash.

It has now emerged that there was a systematic practise to not value interns in several departments of the company and its parent company, Twentieth Century Fox. As a result, the suit has been extended to include the parent company.

In light of the judicial action, Fox changed its practices and unpaid internships are no longer offered. They now pay their interns a small amount.

Unpaid internships, a free workforce?

With the financial crisis, the number of unpaid internships on offer has increased dramatically. In England many are questioning the legality of such relationships, and whether they actually provide new graduates with valuable experience, or if they only amount to a free workforce.

Additionally, not everyone is in the financial position to undertake an unpaid internship, which has led many to criticise such arrangements on the basis that they are in principle only available to the rich in society.

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