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Opinion: Do socially conscious employers have a responsibility to pay their interns?

May 17, 2011

Lynn Miller is the CEO of 4GreenPs, a Washington, D.C.-based marketing firm for green businesses. This opening passage is excerpted (with permission) from an April 3 post she wrote on her company blog. Like all opinion pieces we feature, it does not necessarily represent the views of Internships.com or its affiliates.

4GREENPSlynnmiller Opinion: Do socially conscious employers have a responsibility to pay their interns?By Lynn Miller

There’s a debate raging in companies throughout the U.S. To pay or not to pay – that is the question.

Unpaid internships – for college credit  – are a longstanding tradition in this country. But somewhere, somehow, the college credits disappeared from many internship agreements, and cold, hard cash never took its place.

Businesses desperately trying to grow in these tough times have found a ready and willing crop of students and recent college grads, begging to work – unpaid.

“Somewhere, somehow, the college credits disappeared from many internship agreements, and cold, hard cash never took its place.”

In the “sustainability sector,” it’s a perfect storm. The struggling “new green economy,” and a surge of interest among college students  in anything smacking of social enterprise, sustainability, green business and corporate social responsibility led to a situation where it became commonplace for green businesses to openly advertise unpaid internships. It was a win-win … or so we thought.
Read the full post on 4GreenPs’ blog. >>>

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeffrey Hollender May 18, 2011 at 5:35 am

To pay or not to pay – that is the question.

The answer is simple – pay. Student labour shouldn't be free!

Jeffrey Hollender, Co-Founder & former CEO, Seventh Generation

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Lynn Anne Miller May 20, 2011 at 7:35 am

Jeffrey, thanks for weighing in. Always appreciate your words, they carry weight in our sector. Now let's hope people listen.

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John Carrigan July 27, 2011 at 3:38 pm

It's not just an ethical question, it's a legal one. There's a widespread belief that employers are free not to pay interns just as long as those interns get college credit, but that isn't the law. To the contrary, many unpaid interns are entitled to payment under state or federal law, and may not even know it. I discuss this in more detail at http://www.internshiplaw.com.

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Alex July 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm

We”ve covered these regulations to some extent on the blog, but I”m actually interested in how this would apply to unpaid virtual internships from a lawyer”s perspective. Is it possible to provide “close supervision” over the phone and through the internet?

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Pamela La Gioia November 11, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I did a nine-month internship back in the early 90's. I wasn't paid a cent. But it was worth every minute of my time. As a psychology undergrad at the time, I was given the opportunity to learn more than many of the hospital's paid counselors ever knew, simply because my participation in various activities didn't add to the payroll. In the end, of course, the hospital ended up hiring me because I was already trained. And because of my additional learning, I was asked on hospital committees that no other undergrad had ever been on. I would do it again. Even just for the education I received. If I wanted money I should have worked at Mac Donald's. I chose priceless experience.

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