Panel says unpaid internship laws too unclear

The laws behind unpaid internships are too lax and too vague, a panel of experts on the subject concluded Tuesday in the Jack Morton Auditorium.

As part of a day-long conference discussing the legality of unpaid internships, labor and law experts unanimously agreed that the ambiguity around internship laws lead to students doing immense amounts of work for little compensation.

“Employers are looking for ways, not wrongly, not with bad intent, to get more done in better ways,” said Michael Kravitz, an official in the U.S. Department of Labor and one of the panelists at the discussion, about employers sometimes pushing interns beyond their requirements.

Kravitz said that the Department of Labor has created steadfast criteria to determine what constitutes a legal, unpaid internship, but that it is important for students to be aware of what they are getting themselves into before they accept an unpaid job.

He added that it is difficult for his administration to enforce investigations on possible labor infringements, because only a small number of internship infringements are reported.

David Gregory, a law professor at St. John’s University in New York, said the definition of an employee is broadly defined as a “person employed by an employer,” adding that the definition of an internship is even less likely to have a solid definition, because they vary from employer to employer.

“It gives bullshit a bad name,” Gregory said of the vague definitions.

But despite the poorly defined laws, both Gregory and Kravitz agreed that internships have their benefits and should be kept around, just with better protection for those employed under the “unpaid intern” title.

“We’ve heard from universities, we’ve heard from private employers, we’ve heard from the government, and we’ve heard from students how much value exist in internships,” Kravitz said. “It’s very clear from all the panels that internships are important.”

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