BLOG

Interview with partner Jeffrey K. Brown and associate Michael Tompkins of Leeds Brown Law, PC

By Leeds Brown Law | September 12, 2013

ARE THERE ANY LIMITS ON WHO CAN SEEK COMPENSATION FOR WORK DONE DURING AN UNPAID INTERNSHIP?

Jeff Brown: Yes. First, there are statutes of limitation that require that you file suit within a certain period of time. Each state has its own time period. In New York, it’s six years. If your claim is filed in federal court, the time limit for filing is typically three years. Additionally, there may be certain employers that are exempt from the rules. The law in the field is still developing but generally non-profits, like food banks and government entities, may be entitled to greater leniency. The Department of Labor, for example, has not issued any explicit rulings regarding unpaid internships with charitable organizations or non-profits. Nor has the Wage and Hour Division gone after those organizations for these types of wage violations.

WHAT IF YOU WERE HIRED AS A “TRAINEE” OR AS A “PROVISIONAL” OR “PROBATIONARY” EMPLOYEE, AND PAID FOR YOUR SERVICES?

Jeff Brown: Your title at the company is basically irrelevant. Are you performing work for their benefit? A company cannot simply avoid the law on unpaid internships by calling a person a “trainee” or anything else. Furthermore, the rule doesn’t just apply to unpaid internships, it applies to “underpaid” internships as well. The law is designed to enforce minimum wage laws. If you are required to work a specific number of hours, and your total compensation for those hours does not compute to the minimum wage per hour, you have a claim against your employer. For example, if you are working for a financial services company, making cold calls from the office 60 hours a week, and you are paid $200 per week ($3.34 per hour), you have a claim for not being paid minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

WHAT ARE THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES HERE? CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT YOU MEAN THAT THERE ARE OTHER VICTIMS?

Jeff Brown: Certainly. I think most people assume that the only person who actually suffers from an unpaid internship is the person who worked for no financial or educational benefit. However, there are other repercussions. Unpaid interns displace people who would and should be paid to perform these services. Those are also victims because they never had to the opportunity to work for the company and make a living. Next, because these internships are unpaid, they are only available to those individuals who can afford to work for free. An unpaid intern has to be sound financial or have the support of other people to work for free for an extended period of time. Consequently, they reward the “haves” at the expense of the “have nots.” We want to put an end to that. We believe that these opportunities should be available to people based on their ability or their work ethic, not their ability to work for nothing.

Michael Tompkins: There is a vicious cycle whereby no entry-level jobs are ever filled, and the underprivileged cannot afford to take unpaid internships. People with means who can afford to borrow money or can stay at their parents are the ones that can afford to take unpaid internships. It is an absolute blessing to be in that situation. But it shouldn’t be the threshold for trying to gain some experience. What happens if you can’t afford to work without getting paid, take out loans to pay for rent, or stay with family that lives near the company? The answer is simple: you never get the internships and gain the experience. That’s the argument that people don’t always notice. Jeff is right that getting a job or a real internship should be based on what you can provide to the company – not whether you afford to be free labor for 3 months.

YOU HAVE USED THE TERM “EXPLOITATION” TO DESCRIBE THE CONDUCT OF COMPANIES THAT ILLEGALLY BENEFIT FROM UNPAID INTERNSHIPS. IS THAT TOO STRONG?

Jeff Brown: No. Consider this..Fox Searchlight Pictures grossed more than $300 million on the movie Black Swan, but couldn’t pay its interns minimum wage? As I indicated earlier, many of the companies that have been most egregious in this practice-Conde Nast, the Hearst Corporation, the Charlie Rose production company – are companies that are not experiencing financial problems. At one level, it’s about paying a fair wage for a fair day’s work. But at another level — and more fundamental level — it’s about respect. Anyone who works wants to be respected for what they do. And pay is what Ross Perlin calls “the fundamental currency of respect in the modern economy.” Unless a person willingly volunteers, or unless they are provided with a legitimate training or educational opportunity, he/she should be paid for any work he/she does. Interns know that they are starting out at the bottom, but they are willing to give their time if they get something in return. When they earn nothing and learn nothing as well, there is no other way to describe how they have been treated other than exploitation.

Michael Tompkins: It is exploitation, and it is corrosive to the economy that a generation of workers and future leaders had to go through a cycle of being an intern, collecting a few internships, to reach a level of experience that they could earn a wage. It’s more debt and hardship that young people had to burden themselves with before they are “ready” to enter the work force. That’s a blatant attempt, in my mind, by big business to avoid paying a few dollars each hour – being more concerned with the bottom line than the impact on the people. When you create that type of corporate environment, you are admitting that you are willing to reach the lowest common denominator and ignore the role you are supposed to be playing in sustained growth.

Free Consultation

Testimonials

Shortly after beginning medical school, I experienced some academic difficulties. After seeing my physicians, I was diagnosed with ADHD. After I started receiving specific treatment for ADHD, I requested the school to accommodate me for the disability as recommended by my physician. One of the requests made was for extended time to take my exams. The extension of time was granted...

~Kenneth Broodo, Esq.

Partner at Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP
I hired Lenard Leeds, Esq. to assist me with my wrongful termination. I was let go of my position because of my age. I was not only told to take a decrease in pay but also required to work fewer hours to do the same job. Additionally, they kept asking me “When are you going to retire?” I visited the...

~SanFranReview

I want to thank you again for assisting me in overseeing my issues with my employer. This is the second time I have used Lenard Leeds, Esq. to fight for me. This time I was a National Sales Manager of a drug company, where acts of discrimination based on my age, national origin and retaliation took place. Mr. Leeds and...

~Law Professor

Discrimination Case

$19 Million

Settlement Secured in a National Origin
View More

Request Free Consultation

Please fill out the form below to receive a free consultation, we will respond to
your inquiry within 24-hours guaranteed.

LONG ISLAND

One Old Country Road, Suite 347 Carle Place, NY 11514

516-873-9550

get directions

DOWNTOWN

570 Lexington Avenue, Suite 1600A New York, NY 10022

212-661-4370

get directions

DOWNTOWN NYC

101 Greenwich Street, 22nd Floor New York, NY 10006

800-585-4658

get directions
Call Now!