According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “unpaid internships for public sector and non-profit charitable organizations, where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation, are generally permissible” (2018).
While most “for-profit” private sector internship positions are considered employment positions where the interns are compensated, some internships in the private sector may be unpaid. The “primary beneficiary test” is used to determine whether an intern or student is, in fact, an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The following seven factors have been identified as part of the test:
The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.
Courts have described the “primary beneficiary test” as a flexible test, and no single factor is determinative. Accordingly, whether an intern or student is an employee under the FLSA necessarily depends on the unique circumstances of each case.
If analysis of these circumstances reveals that an intern or student is actually an employee, then he or she is entitled to both minimum wage and overtime pay under the FLSA. On the other hand, if the analysis confirms that the intern or student is not an employee, then he or she is not entitled to either minimum wage or overtime pay under the FLSA.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor