Interns have rights too

Intern compensation info graphic

An info graphic by InternMatch, listing quick facts about intern compensation.

After posting on Sept. 24 about unpaid vs. paid internships, I heard from the founder of InternMatch, an online platform that matches interns with employers.

In September, InternMatch gained some attention by proposing the “Intern Bill of Rights,” which aims to set some common standards for intern employers. As a news junkie, I’d heard about this and thought that as potential employers of interns, you might like to learn more.

There are tons of intern matching services, so I’m not endorsing this one, necessarily. But I’m impressed with what I’ve learned. For starters, InternMatch conducted an Intern Match Report, which revealed the face of traditional internships may be changing.

“The goal of the Intern Bill of Rights is to improve internships for interns, employers and society as a whole,” said Nathan Parcells, co-founder and chief marketing officer of InternMatch. “It focuses on fair documentation and compensation, increasing the training and mentoring aspect of the internship, legal protections, nondiscriminatory hiring practices and potential for internship benefits. Some companies that have already signed the bill are Rosetta and Viacom.”

It has eight proposed requirements:

  • All interns should be provided an offer document, recognizing their role within a company.
  • All interns deserve fair compensation for their work, usually in the form of wages and sometimes in the form of dedicated training.
  • The word “intern” should only be applied to opportunities that involve substantial training, mentoring and getting to know a line of work.
  • The hiring of interns should be as transparent and non-discriminatory as the hiring of full-time employees.
  • All interns are entitled to the same legal protections as all other workers, and should not be subject to discrimination, harassment or arbitrary dismissal. Under these circumstances, interns should have the same standing in court and the same recourse to the law as all other workers.
  • While some benefits, such as vacation time, do not always make sense for interns, interns should be given reasonable benefits that are similar to employees. This includes sick days, over time and worker’s compensation.
  • No one should be forced to take an unpaid internship or be required to pay in order to work.
  • All interns should be treated with respect and dignity by coworkers and supervisors.

According to InternMatch, almost 48 percent of the internships in which the class of 2013 engaged were unpaid, as students seem to care more about building resumes than earning money.

But for employers, the question of whether to pay is becoming more complex as they navigate a confusing sea of legalese. So perhaps it’s best to think of paying as an ethical obligation, rather than a legal one.

Nathan Parcells

Nathan Parcells, founder of InternMatch.

With the cost of tuition rising every year, students are finding it difficult to make ends meet. InternMatch found that 61 percent of unpaid interns also work a paying job. Many of these same students are also taking more credits per semester to finish college in  four, or even six, years.

It’s a full and stressful load. And that’s why InternMatch, and those companies that have signed on to the Intern Bill of Rights, argue that interns should be paid.

“Unpaid internships hurt the economy,” Parcells said, “and the millions of unpaid internships in the U.S. every year are costing hundreds of thousands of jobs. The data-supported realization that unpaid internships have only a 1 percent impact on employment should sound an alarm for everyone defending the ‘pay your dues and you’ll be better off long-term’ argument.”

However, since nonprofits are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act, which mandates for-profit companies pay their interns at least minimum wage, they are the most likely to hire unpaid interns. In that case, it’s best to consult with a lawyer, Parcells said.

But what does this all mean for associations?

“It’s safe to say that most internships at associations are likely very hands-on, meaning the intern is often working closely with several individuals,” Parcells said. “This means the intern has to have a strong skillset and experience level, but will also gain a lot of training and mentorship from the close interactions.”

Next week, I’ll be talking with Cheryl Ronk, president of Michigan Society of Association Executives, about MSAE’s intern program. Is there anything you’d like me to ask her?

Until then, check out InternMatch’s industry guides for quick tidbits.

2 Responses to “Interns have rights too”

  1. October 9, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    I’m actually producing a documentary on this topic that will be examining the unpaid internship. Like my page to learn more about my film:https://www.facebook.com/theinterndocumentary

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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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