To Pay or Not To Pay…

In an article written by Steven Greenhouse, for the New York Times, an interesting and no doubt controversial topic is addressed.   Xuedan Wang, a former intern for Harper’s Bazaar, is suing the Hearst Corporation for violations of Labor Department rules with respect to hours worked and wages.  Wang says that she worked there for four months and usually put in 40 hour work weeks, sometimes up to 55 hours a week, and never received any payment for her services.  The premise for the lawsuit, according to the article is as such:

The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to
training which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Wang says that by treating her as an intern and not a regular employee, the Hearst Corporation denied her wages, social security contributions, as well as unemployment insurance and workers compensation benefits.

Interesting.  First, let us take a look at her position at the magazine.  She admits through the article, as well as in the lawsuit that she was an intern.  Call me crazy, but intern does not mean the same thing as employee.  At least the last time I checked.

As a student, I look forward to internships to help bolster my experience and advance my academic career.  I see it as a way to get my foot in the door in a highly competitive field.  I don’t expect to get paid for my work.  I do expect to work hard.  I do expect to be challenged.  I do expect to receive credit for my time to put toward my degree from whatever institution I am interning with!  I do expect to learn.

There are internships out there that pay for services provided by interns.  Maybe Ms. Wang should have applied to one of those instead of an unpaid internship with Harper’s.

Secondly, let us look at this from a business perspective.  How many times have people chosen a career path, gone to school, and when the time comes to participate in an internship, after a week, they quit, drop out, or change their major and move on to something else.  Oh yes, it happens.  There are medical students out their that have gone through all of their training, applied and get accepted to a residency program, only to find less than a year into it, that they can’t hack it.  This is a business.  Should companies be forced to pay their interns?  Chances are, especially if this is the students first internship, they have had little to no hands on experience.  It’s my guess that these interns will have to be taught the ways of the media world, and by teaching them, it takes away from the productivity of the regular employees who now have to juggle an intern on top of their other duties expected by the employer.

Why should an employer have to pay for a decrease in productivity, albeit temporary, when they are offering an invaluable experience to the student at the companies expense.  I’m also thinking that the intern would represent a level of liability for the company as well.  Accuracy issues, missed deadlines, production mistakes and it could go on and on.  I’m not saying the companies out there should abuse their interns, but hey, the job should be tough, it needs to be in order to weed out those who have no business in the media business.

It sounds to me, Ms. Wang was not satisfied with the internship she chose.  I would guess that she knew full well, the details of her internship.  She knew going in, that it was a demanding position, and most importantly, unpaid!  

I truly hope this lawsuit gets thrown out of court.  If it isn’t, I worry about what implications may come from this and what impact it will have on the rest of us journalism students looking for the same opportunities.

What do you think?


About kendra75

Freelance journalist, researcher, history buff and full time student.

Posted on February 4, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. The problem arrises when employers abuse the unpaid aspect of an internship. I can only speak for media outlets, but in some cases an intern might be performing most, if not all, of the tasks expected of employees.

    Online publications are particularly bad when it comes to this. Sometimes the interns will be producing content on the hour every hour. This is not stuff done just for the education of the intern. This is content that is published, draws clicks and earns dollars. At that point the major difference is just the intern’s lack of payment. In my opinion, that’s crossing a line.

  2. That’s pretty much how I see it.

  3. While doing my internships for Nursing, it was clearly understood that there was no compensation to be had by said interns. We, as nursing students, were directly supervised at all times, and while we did learn and do certain tasks pertinent to the job, we did so with direct supervision from hospital staff, and university staff. We felt privileged to be learning from those who do the job everyday, that willingly shared thier expertise and time, and took on the liability of teaching a student.. No payment necessary. That was payment enough. I also hope that this obvious case of greed is promptly recognized and thrown out of court. If not, I fear for future students, in all cases where internship is necessary. Companies may likely be less open to invite students to intern, if they must pay for the unskilled labor an intern may provide.

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