Unpaid Labor In The Legislative Crosshairs
Federal and state regulators are tightening up on how businesses use interns. Concerned that organizations, including small businesses, are taking advantage of unpaid workers to help cut back on expenses, the Department of Labor has begun cracking down on what it views as violations of minimum wage laws. Organizations in violation of these laws could find themselves in a complicated legal challenge, or having to pay severe fines.
To help avoid any issues, small businesses must ensure that they are in compliance with the government’s six criteria of an unpaid internship (which can be downloaded at http://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/TEGL/TEGL12-09acc.pdf). One of these is that the interns receive beneficial training, which is similar to what would be learned at a vocational or academic school, and that they not displace regular employees.
Last year, Mike Beckman, president of Proforma-BPM (asi/300094), hired a local high-school intern who learned and assisted with the company’s marketing work. “It was mainly a teaching opportunity,” he says. “I took the intern to a couple meetings and he would shadow us in the office and see how we did the work.”
Approaching internships as an educational opportunity, rather than as cheap labor, may be in the interest of a small business for other reasons, as well. “Interns that come in with no experience need a lot of guidance and a lot of direction – that can end up being work for small businesses,” say Donna Flagg, founder of the Krysalis Group and author of the just-published Surviving Dreaded Conversations.
1 Stop Promo Shop (asi/287780) has provided training programs for high-school students for years. “We’ve always had good experiences with interns,” says Michael Saylor, owner of 1 Stop. The company follows the Department of Labor’s guidelines and treats it as hands-on training for interested students more than anything else. “We see it as a service for the school,” he says.
The U.S. Department of Labor encourages business owners looking to confirm they are in compliance to call the helpline at (866) 4US-WAGE. – AP