Banned By Obama, Trump Brings Back Unpaid Internships

U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander AcostaU.S. Department of Labor/Public Domain

Unpaid interns are not only cost-free labor for corporations but exclude students who can't afford to work for free.

President Donald Trump's Labor Department recently put forth new guidelines for hiring interns without pay, undoing Obama administration guidance that sought to lessen the exploitation of college students by companies looking for free labor.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the "primary beneficiary test" established by the new rules differ from previous criteria in that companies are held to less rigid standards in determining whether or not the employer is obtaining "immediate advantage from the activities of the intern."

“This standard that the department is setting forth is easier for companies to satisfy in terms of internships qualifying as unpaid,” said Paul DeCamp, an attorney at Epstein Becker & Green who works with employers.

“If the intern did any productive work for the company it would — at least based on the strict reading of the test — be required that activity be paid, which is, not to put too fine a point on it, ridiculous,” DeCamp said.

DeCamp believes the new rules will result in fewer companies relying on interns for "grunt work", choosing instead to simply pay those individuals a minimum wage. But labor advocates are concerned the new rules are too vague and companies could justify nearly any internship as beneficial to the student.

“You could say working in the industry, even if you’re doing relatively mundane tasks, gives you some knowledge of how the industry works,” said Patricia Smith, senior council at the National Employment Law Project.