Posts tagged ‘employment’

The (IL)LEGALITY of UNPAID INTERNSHIPS

This article first appeared in The Nation on February 3, 2010.

One unremarked consequence of the great recession has been the way laid-off workers are being forced to look for employment in places they traditionally would not consider, including unpaid internships. Willy Franzen, founder of the internship aggregator Web site One Day, One Internship, has seen the number of unpaid internships rise recently. This increase of non-traditional interns, if you will, has forced to light the issue of the frequent exploitation of unpaid interns and what can be done about it.

Before the economic downturn, some internships were available for most college students or recent graduates who wanted one, Franzen said. Now that others are jumping into the internship field though, he believes it’s only a matter of time before the question of legality comes up in court.

But can unpaid internships actually be illegal? If so, then how are top, high-profile companies in industries across the board getting away with this possible criminality?

The United States Department of Labor provides six criteria that must all be met for the student to not be considered an employee and therefore does not have to receive compensation.

The six criteria include:

1. – “The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school;

2. – The training is for the benefit of the trainee;

3. – The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation;

4. – The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;

5. – The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the completion of the training period; and

6. – The employer and the trainee understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.”

Most of these rules are easily met, but rule four is problematic: that the employer “derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees.” Unless the only task an intern is doing is literally fetching coffee, any other activity no matter how mundane could be seen as a benefit (and depending on how sleep-deprived the office is, providing coffee might even be considered such). If the employee that would normally be making copies is freed up to be more productive because of an intern, isn’t that “immediate benefit” derived directly from the intern?

The Department of Labor has difficulty interpreting its own rules when it comes to this question. Franzen points out some of the DOL’s contradictions in his blog post, “Are Unpaid Internships Illegal?”

But in the end the DOL interprets the rule to mean that the “productive work performed by the mentees would be offset by the burden to the employers…from the training and supervision provided.”

Beyond the question of legality, unpaid internships are still morally questionable and downright exploitative. After all, if you’re a for-profit company who can’t afford to pay a worker minimum wage, you might want to reevaluate your business model.

From students’ perspectives, the problem is that there will always be someone willing to take the unpaid internship. The general notion is that if students want to get ahead in their chosen field, internships, often of the unpaid variety, are necessary to get a foot in the door. And for most professions that notion holds true. Especially in this tough economy, networking and experience factor into future employment more than the classes students took or their GPAs.

If we want this to change, it’s going to have to come in a courtroom. But change won’t come easy, unless one intern is willing to make herself a test case. The Labor and Employment Law Blog explains why most interns won’t sue; “in most cases, they fear being blacklisted, as they will undoubtedly need to use the internship as a reference to get any future work.”

It’s high time that someone somewhere steps up and pushes this issue into the forefront via the court system. Maybe then the national exposure could level the playing field among recent college graduates giving a legitimate chance for career success to those who just can’t afford to work full-time without getting paid.

Feb 3, 2010 at 1:06 am Leave a comment

NO DISCRIMINATION in HIRING of EX-CONS

This article originally appeared at The Temple News on Sept. 29, 2009.

Hiring ex-offenders gets Philly businesses a tax break, but Temple has no specific policy.

According to a recent study, 40,000 ex-convicts from federal, state and local prisons come to Philadelphia each year. One-third of them reside in the areas surrounding Temple.

Buzz surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles has revolved primarily around the team’s new quarterback, ex-convict Michael Vick, after he signed in August. What many Philadelphians aren’t hearing, though, is that the franchise was offered a tax break, as any company would, by the city’s Mayor’s Office for the Re-entry of Ex-Offenders.

The Eagles turned down the tax break, which MORE grants to encourage companies to hire ex-felons in an effort to reduce repeat incarceration.

Vick’s situation represents a larger issue surrounding employment opportunities for those released from prison.

While Temple doesn’t have a specific hiring policy for ex-offenders, the university does not discriminate, said Ray Betzner, assistant vice president of university communications.

“We do have programs that hire as many local residents as we can,” Betzner said. “That’s very important to us, and we’ve been making great strides.”

Temple’s Community Outreach and Hiring Program targets eight communities surrounding Main Campus to provide employment and career development opportunities. In 2006, 102 local residents were hired from these communities.

Temple officials involved with the hiring of employees at the university – Harry Young, associate vice president of employment, and William Hart, director of community outreach and hiring – did not return requests for comment on the university’s hiring of ex-offenders.

A 2007 report by two University of Pennsylvania professors found that 40,000 ex-cons from federal, state and local prisons come to the city per year.

Wayne Welsh, a Temple criminal justice professor, said one in four men in Philadelphia have been or are currently under some kind of criminal justice supervision.

“There are so many ex-offenders running around in the poorest communities in Philly,” Welsh said. “Chances are, we’re coming into contact with a number of ex-offenders everyday…whether at Temple or the bus stop.”

In 2005, one-third of offenders returning to Philadelphia lived in neighborhoods around Temple, including Fairhill, North Central, Hartranft and Strawberry Mansion, the UPenn report said.

Yet few services target this population. In Fairhill, there are seven organizations that provide services to ex-offenders for the 1,101 ex-prisoners who returned in 2005.

According to the report, 63 percent of ex-offenders are arrested for a felony, serious misdemeanor or parole violation within three years of release. Statistically, 47 percent of these will be re-convicted, and 41 percent will return to prison.

With the number of inmates skyrocketing in recent years – Philadelphia Prison System numbers doubled to 8,000 from 1985 to 2005, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison decided to implement a Re-entry Task Force last spring.

Welsh is part of the new task force.

“The problem is we have all these different agencies, and they all do different things,” Welsh said. “The basic mission is to develop a strategic plan, to bring together all these different agencies in a somewhat cohesive way.”

Welsh said the task force will begin by taking inventory. Then, they’ll try to fill in the gaps with existing resources. Members of the task force hope to receive funding from the federal government’s Second Chance program, he said.

Universities in Philadelphia can play a large role in data organization and, like Temple, have the opportunity to employ high numbers of ex-offenders, but they aren’t the only ones.

Currently in Philadelphia, “there’s some strong support for doing a better job on re-entry,” Welsh said. He knows it won’t be easy, he said, but he remains optimistic.

“There are many other employees in the city and region who could potentially hire large numbers of ex-offenders, if they could be convinced ex-offenders have the skills or potential skills to be good, productive employees.”

Sep 29, 2009 at 8:19 pm Leave a comment


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