A settlement was recently announced between NBCUniversal and former interns. A lawsuit was filed in July 2013 by two former interns for NBCUniversal. One of the two interns claimed that he worked 24 hour weeks in the booking department at MSNBC in 2011 and was unpaid. The other intern says she worked 25 hour or more weeks on the staff of Saturday Night Live in 2012. The interns claim that they were misclassified as unpaid interns, and they were also denied unemployment, workers’ compensation insurance, and social security contributions.

Although this case is settling out of court, other companies, including Fox and Lionsgate, are still litigating the issue of whether or not they were violating labor laws by failing to pay interns minimum wage or provide them with any benefits. Those internships occurred on the movie Black Swan, as well as on other sets.

The issue of whether interns must be paid or not is currently a hot area of litigation. According to the Labor Department, some interns must be paid, and some do not have to be paid. There are six factors to be considered in deciding whether an internship must be paid or not. They are:

  • The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  • The internship is for the benefit of the intern;
  • The intern does not displace regular employees;
  • The employer that provides the trainings gets no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities;
  • The intern isn’t necessarily entitled to a job when the internship is over; and
  • The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages.

The Fair Labor Standards Act governs wages and overtime. Anyone who is considered as an employee has to be compensated. However, if the above factors are met, the person can be considered as an unpaid intern. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that if a person works, but his or her work serves only his or her interests, the person is not an employee.

In general, when considering whether a person can legally be considered as an unpaid intern, the internship program should be structured as an academic experience, rather than the employer’s actual operations. Also, if the interns are used as substitutes for regular workers, or to augment the workforce during specific time periods, the interns must be paid.

In the lawsuit against NBCUniversal, which is being settled, one plaintiff says her job responsibilities included booking cars and making travel arrangements for correspondents and guests on MSNBC’s morning programs. She also answered phones, greeted guests, did research and gave guests copies of the shows in which they appeared. The other plaintiff alleges that she worked more than 10 hours a day on a regular basis. Her job duties included completing paperwork for extras and background actors, filing, processing petty cash, running errands, and assisting at shoots of SNL skits.

If you are currently an unpaid intern, and you believe that your job duties involve more than should be required of an unpaid intern, you may wish to speak with an employment lawyer. A lawyer can help you determine whether or not you are entitled to compensation for those unpaid hours in which you worked.

At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that employers should not use a tight job market as an excuse to fill jobs by using unpaid interns. If you believe that your employer should be paying you, but isn’t, call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland employment attorney, at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She works with clients throughout the Oakland-San Francisco area, and will be happy to speak with you about your case. Call to learn more.

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