Why Unpaid Internships Are Slowly Disappearing

September 28, 2018

Unpaid internships have seemed like the norm in the business sector for some time. Menial and undesirable tasks could be sloughed onto the intern’s workload without consequence or compensation because these positions were seen as a necessary evil for entering the workforce.

This may no longer be the case.

Unpaid internships are gradually disappearing from the workplace dynamic. Here are a few reasons why.

  1. Oppressive Student Debt

The current national student debt is reaching all-time highs, with Forbes Magazine referring to it as a $1.5 trillion crisis.

With a burden this large, many students simply cannot afford to take on a position for which they will not be paid. With many students paying off hefty student loans immediately or shortly after graduation, the unpaid internship has lost its draw.

More students are holding out for paid positions or choosing to forego positions in their career field for a time as a means of survival. Especially in the case of students at high-caliber and high-cost universities, the advantages of some unpaid internships might be heavily outweighed by the financial difficulties experienced by the average college student.

  1. Legality Issues

One of the first notable stories of an unpaid internship gone awry was in the case of a few interns working on the set of the 2010 film Black Swan. In this situation, these interns realized that the internships they participated in unquestioningly were actually not in compliance with laws regarding unpaid work. This resulted in a hefty lawsuit – and the interns came out on top.

While interns may have formerly accepted their fate without question, stories like that of these film interns demonstrate that interns do have a voice and they do have rights.

Technology makes information on workers’ rights more accessible than ever, so more and more voices are speaking up against unlawful treatment and bringing injustice to light.

In some situations, the reason unpaid internships are disappearing may simply be because they aren’t even legal!

Be sure that your HR professionals are fully aware of the legal requirements for an internship to be unpaid. For more information on the issues surrounding unpaid internships and qualifications for an unpaid internship, check out this Time Magazine article.

  1. Improving Workers’ Rights

Around the country, and especially in New England, recent legislation has been making strides toward better and more equal conditions for workers.

Policies like the Equal Pay Act and the Grand Bargain Act may have presented a challenge for your payroll professionals, but they also set a precedent that values workers’ best interest.

The simple fact is, neglecting to pay valuable individuals may not be in their best interest, even if those workers are at the intern level.

As companies become more focused on the quality of treatment for their employees, unpaid internships will no longer be seen as appropriate treatment of qualified individuals. Be sure that your business uses the necessary payroll strategies to accommodate this shift.

If your organization relies on the efforts of unpaid interns, it may be time to reevaluate your payroll processes to determine whether or not you can support an eventual salary for these employees.

While this task may present itself as daunting, the payroll experts at Commonwealth Payroll and HR are available to help you prepare your business for any eventual shifts. Call us today at (877) 245-1159.

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