Nonprofits rely heavily on volunteers and often on unpaid interns.
That is nothing new, but recent disputes that went to court have caused the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) to review the need for additional guidance about unpaid internships at nonprofits.
Referring to the case of Wang vs. The Hearst Corporation, attorneys Nicholas M. Reiter and Jeffrey S. Tenenbaum of Venable LLC offer four takeaways from the case that are of particular concern to the sector:
- Require academic credit from the intern’s educational institution. The educational institutions of two of six Wang plaintiffs initially approved receipt of credit but denied credit at the end of the internship. Nonprofits should consider requiring that unpaid interns submit proof of at least preliminary eligibility for academic credit.
- Design educational sessions for the interns. The Wang case involved students who worked at Cosmopolitan magazine, where they received four, one-hour sessions on career paths. This helped uphold the successful argument of the magazine that the students were not entitled to pay for their intern work.
- Monitor the frequency of menial tasks performed by interns. A court is more likely to find an employment (i.e., paid) relationship if the bulk of an intern’s day is spent making deliveries, performing data entry and running other errands rather than gaining meaningful education.
- Beware of lengthy intern relationships. The Wang ruling considered whether the length of the internships was “grossly excessive in comparison to the period of beneficial learning.”