Employers in California who make use of “unpaid interns” must take special care. The importance of this issue is spotlighted as a risk-laden trend in three recent, high visibility lawsuits. In the first, two former interns who worked for an international media company on a major motion picture alleged they were misclassified as unpaid interns in order to keep production costs down. The second suit was filed by a former Harper’s Bazaar intern against media conglomerate Hearst Corporation in February 2012, alleging that she was improperly classified as an unpaid intern to avoid paying her minimum wage and overtime. The third suit was filed on March 14, 2012 as a putative wage and hour class action on behalf of an unpaid intern and all other similarly situated unpaid interns on PBS’ Charlie Rose Show.
These lawsuits highlight the widespread but dangerous practice of calling eager and sometimes inexperienced workers “interns.” The worker is often anxious to learn a new skill, gain exposure to a potential future employer, and/or gain valuable experience in order to become more marketable. In turn, the employer is thrilled to obtain needed labor at little or no cost, without having to comply with expensive and onerous employment laws and regulations.
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