Fox-Searchlight Pictures faces a class-action lawsuit in New York from unpaid interns who worked on the production of the hit film “Black Swan.” The interns claim Fox-Searchlight failed to pay them for their work in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act () and recent U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) guidelines on unpaid internships.
This case could be the first real court test of internship guidance issued in 2010. To comply with the FLSA, the DOL says an unpaid intern program must meet these six criteria:
- It’s similar to training that an educational institution would offer.
- It exists to benefit the intern.
- The intern doesn’t displace a regular employee, and works under close supervision of existing staff.
- The employer derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. Sometimes, its operations may actually be impeded.
- The intern isn’t necessarily entitled to a job after the internship ends.
- The employer and the intern understand the internship is unpaid.
Advice: If you have unpaid interns, take these steps to avoid liability under the FLSA. Know what work your interns are doing. Have HR approve all internships in advance, insisting on clearly delineated duties to ensure they comply with state and federal law. Require interns to sign a document acknowledging that they won’t be paid.
Never use interns in place of workers, especially workers who have been laid off.
Make sure the internship has an academic component. Consult with college internship coordinators to ensure the intern is getting academic credit in return for providing some evidence of learning, such as writing a paper about the experience.