internsFor decades young people who wanted to get a foot in the door in the entertainment industry have taken on the role of the unpaid intern.  Many of these eager souls were willing to do just about anything, for zero pay, in order to learn the business and have an opportunity to get in position to land a bigger, better and paying role within the industry.

Recently a wave of class action lawsuits against the likes of heavy hitters like Sony, Fox and NBCUniversal have been filed for unpaid wages.  The majority of the lawsuits focus on the interns serving as direct employees for the companies in question, which puts those companies in violation federal minimum wage laws.

While some companies have chosen to fight the allegations, others seem to be seeing the proverbial writing on the wall.  Rather than go through the difficulties and distractions brought on by a lengthy trial, NBCUniversal has opted to settle their class action suit filed by former interns who worked on popular shows like Saturday Night Live.  The settlement includes a payout of more than six million dollars to compensate current and former interns for services rendered and also includes changes to policy to pay interns moving forward.

It stands to reason that if an intern is performing duties that would typically merit pay, or if they are directly replacing a paid employee with their efforts that they should be paid by the employer.  As time goes on, and more class action suits are filed, the majority of entertainment companies will likely see that those who work hard to help them produce their product should be getting a paycheck for their efforts.

If you feel as though you have been treated unfairly by an employer or if you haven’t received and adequate wage for services rendered you should enlist the help of a legal professional.  An experienced California attorney can evaluate your employment in order to determine any wrongdoing.  If your employer has committed an offense or withheld pay your lawyer will fight to get you the wages you are entitled to.

In California, unpaid interns that are incorrectly classified as interns, when they are actually performing the duties of an employee, must be paid wages. Failure to pay employees wages can constitute violations of California’s wage and hour laws .  The question of whether an individual is an intern or an employee depends on various factors including but not limited to: a) whether the tasks assigned or traditional employee tasks or more similar to classroom/training experiences; b) how the internist supervise and whether the supervision is more educational in nature or similar to employee supervision; c) the type of work assigned, and whether the “intern” performs tasks that are menial in nature such as filing, mailings, answering phones, and serving as a receptionist that are primarily for the benefit of the employer and not the intern; d) whether the internship is ongoing or follows a summer/semester/quarter track; e) the intern’s course of study, and whether the internship actually benefits the intern; and f) whether there is an expectation that a job opportunity will be awaiting them after completion of the training or their schooling. The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) has in the past set forth five (5) additional factors that help determine whether an unpaid internship violates California labor laws:

  • Any internship should be part of an “educational curriculum”;
  • The interns should not receive “employee benefits”;
  • The training received by interns should be general “so as to qualify the [interns] for work in any similar business, rather than designed specifically for a job with the employer offering the program”;
  • The screening process for interns should be based on “criteria relevant for admission into an independent educational program”; and
  • Advertisements or postings for internships should clearly describe the positions as educational or training-based rather than as employment.

AXIS Legal Counsel represents clients who have not been correctly classified, or have suffered the unlawful deprivation of wages arising out of violations of federal and state labor laws, including California’s wage and hour laws.  For information on retaining AXIS Legal Counsel to represent you with respect to any wage, hour, or labor law matter, including misclassified unpaid internships, contact or call (213) 403-0130 for a confidential consultation, or visit our Employee Rights’ Practice Area or Individual Rights Portal for more information.