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Is it legal to not pay interns in Maryland?

Many young adults in Maryland, as well as older adults who are looking for a career change, take advantage of internship opportunities in the summer months. Internships are a great way for inexperienced workers to get their feet wet and learn about a particular industry or type of work. However, interns may need to be careful to ensure that their employment rights are protected.

Many internships are unpaid, and in many cases this is perfectly legal. In some cases, interns are really serving in an employee's role, however, and this means that they should be paid for their work.

In recent years, a number of lawsuits have been filed accusing employers of exploiting interns. In one of these cases, a group of former interns sued the Hearst Corporation, claiming that they should have been classified as employees rather than interns--and thus, they should have been paid.

In order to properly classify a worker as an unpaid intern and not an employee, the internship program must fit the following characteristics:

  1. The intern must receive training that is similar to what would be provided in a classroom environment.
  2. The internship is designed to benefit the intern.
  3. The intern is not taking the place of a regular employee.
  4. The employer does not obtain immediate benefits from the intern; contrarily, the employer might actually be impeded from time to time.
  5. The intern is not automatically entitled to a job after the internship is over.
  6. Both the intern and the employer understand that the internship is unpaid.

These standards are provided by the U.S. Department of Labor Regulations. If an internship does not meet each one of these criteria, it is possible that the intern should be classified as a paid employee, earning wages as per Maryland and federal wage law.

Source: Forbes, "Unpaid Interns Lack Class, Says New York Court," Betty Graumlich, May 16,2013

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