Small businesses in South Florida may have heard about the recent number of lawsuits related to unpaid internships. In two high-profile cases, unpaid interns have recently sued Fox Searchlight Pictures and Hearst Corporation for allegedly violating wage and labor laws.

Unpaid internships are legal in South Florida, but they must conform to the U.S. Department of Labor’s unpaid internship guidelines. These guidelines were updated in 2010 and include the following:

• Interns must be given tasks that are beneficial for them.

• Interns must not be asked to run personal errands for the employer.

• Interns must be closely supervised by a staff member.

• Interns must receive training similar to that which would be given in an educational setting.

• The intern cannot displace staff employees.

• The employer cannot directly benefit from the intern’s work.

• Both the intern and the employer must be made aware that the internship may not result in an employment offer.

• The internship should be for a fixed time period, established at the beginning of the internship.

• All parties understand the terms and job tasks on the internship.

• The terms of the internship must be in writing.

Broward County employers who have an unpaid internship program are wise to work with an employment law attorney to make sure their programs do not violate any federal laws. And, unpaid interns who feel their employment rights have been violated in the course of the internship have the right to seek legal recourse as well.

Source: Reuters, “Might Be Time to Rethink Unpaid Internships,” Andrew Chow, JD, March 14, 2012