If anyone in the HN audience is participating in an unpaid internship — which I doubt, but … — please stop immediately. In this industry (software development) there is absolutely no reason to accept being stepped on like that.
You can easily find a paying internship at any half-decent tech company, just interview around at a few places. Speaking as a developer, mentor, and interviewer: internships are where we get our best hires and are an extremely good deal for us — paying $25+/hr no benefits is a STEAL for us. And you should name and shame your current "internment" office, for being total assholes.
The flip side of that is if you're a startup in the Bay Area if your interns are doing work that hits production start paying them before you piss one off and they sue you. $10 bucks an hour (mimimum wage) is cheap...
~$1600 gross per month doesn't really seem like a living wage for Bayarea; in Seattle you could probably get by. I think even startups up here usually pay north of $20/hr. I've heard of Google/FB paying north of $30/hr for interns.
$10/hr may dodge a lawsuit, but I think you'll have your interns bought out from under you by someone less cheap.
I don't think unpaid internships should be illegal. I worked in a lot of unpaid internships early in my career, and it helped me build my skill set. In some cases, a position didn't exist, I just asked if I could work for free to learn. Those are jobs I wouldn't have had, much to my detriment, if the employer feared being sued or fined for not paying me.
I think this is particularly important if you're trying to learn how to run a company rather than learn specific job skills.
The problem is that internships can very, very easily turn exploitative -- not just to the individual but to an entire class of individuals.
If this company just let you tinker at their offices so you could learn, that seems fine. If you were producing production-quality work for free, well, that's a more complex problem. In that case, you're devaluing the work itself (giving away for free what would normally be sold). And while it's not going to have a huge effect if just you do it, if this scenario was allowed to become the norm it would impact the paychecks of everyone in your industry. Except the owners, who would love the overall cheaper labor.
And, just to say it: It's this sort lack of labor protections that lead to ever-widening income gaps. If companies aren't bound to pay employees fairly, the middle class gets poorer and the wealthy owner class gets wealthier.
The United States Department of Labor fact sheet on internships is perhaps more user-friendly than the website kindly submitted here, and is an authoritative source of information. Bottom line: if the worker is providing economic value to your for-profit business, you had better pay the worker at least minimum wage.
The USA has a century long precedent of certain protections for laborers. Child labor protections and regulated overtime pay are just as non-free than the "equal work, equal pay" mentality when it comes to intern abuse... For better or for worse.
My Airbnb host used to "hire" a Japanese kid to water her garden without paying him a cent. She told him it was an "internship" for her design company, and she told him by tradition and by default, internship is unpaid. That kid was paying very high rent to her already, obeying all kinds of house rules like "shower should be less than 5 minutes and only one time per day". He was nice enough to work for her for free for over a month. I don't think that kid knew about his right. That's where the laws should come in.
At least in the US, the general rule of thumb is that you can have unpaid interns as long as there is some sort of training program for them. The specifics behind this vary, and while I'm not a lawyer, I've seen a lot of companies with unpaid interns operate in what I'd consider a gray area. Just enough training so you don't get in trouble.
This is wrong. Providing training isnt enough. "The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;"http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm
I haven't met any programmers with unpaid internships but I have met individuals in other fields who did them. If I recall correctly it was an internship for a television company (not public) and was just a part of the culture of their industry. A "paying dues" if you will. What exactly are you supposed to do in that situation?
It seems to be the norm in radio too. I've noticed in talk radio there is always an unpaid intern. You will always hear on air personalities talk about when they were interns too. I'm not sure if it's just deeply ingrained in the culture or that's what the industry considers a good/real education in broadcasting. It kinda makes sense because with software you can build something and use that to show skill and experience but I can see how that's hard to do in other industries.
Assuming that you want to work in that industry, probably your only option is to take the unpaid internship. After you have completed the internship you can report them to the Department of Labor, or if you are really ballsy you can sue for what you should have been paid.
Ok, so I had an "unpaid internship" that essentially consisted of hanging out on this company's couch and working on an open-source project (github.com/andrewf/pcap2har), with occasional mentoring, on hardware they had lying around. This resulted directly in a) a paid internship with this company the next summer, working on different stuff and b) an internship with Google the next next summer, working on pcap2har.
Am I supposed to be angry about this? They thought they were going to use pcap2har in their for-profit product, but in fact they didn't. Does that change anything? Today, I certainly wouldn't take an unpaid internship, having already been measured and found adequate. But for the company that first gave me a chance, I have nothing but gratitude.
Why don't people understand it makes no difference if the internship is paid or unpaid? If you are working for an org other than the government or school the rules are the same. Interns don't actually exist as a class of worker and labor code is based on a 1946 supreme court decision that referenced bricklayers.
I'm being sued by a former intern whom we paid a very respectable $15/hr for part time work over the summer; she's coming after me for like $100k because she alleges I wilfully misclassified her as a contractor rather than employee.
Bottom line: I won't use ANY interns. I say blame it on the millennials and generation entitlement. Drives me out of my mind that this person is trying to get rich off the back of a start up.
There certainly is a difference between the difference between paid and unpaid internships. You can hire a paid intern under the same set of laws that apply to normal employment (because as you say interns are not a legal class of worker). As an employee, they are free to do work that benefits their employer. Unpaid interns may not do work that benefits the employer.
You simply made the mistake of assuming that because you call one of your employees an intern, that you are free to disregard employment law. That is not the case. Paid internships are subject to the same laws as a normal employment relationship.
Anyway, it's probably not the best idea to take advice about employment law from someone who thought interns were independent contractors.
I tried to get an unpaid internship once but the guy wouldn't even consider it seriously. I was trying to switch fields and felt that if I had a month or two I could learn it and apply for jobs in the new field. In most areas we'd be able to deal with liability with a contract. Unfortunately, labor contracts seem to be illegal now. Somehow that feels wrong to me but no one talks about it.