Find the right lawyer now

Internship Employment Laws

Find a Local Employment Lawyer near You

Who is an Intern?

An intern is a temporary employee who gains educational experience in a real-work environment. Interns may be given a nominal stipend, but unpaid internships are more common. Schools can give educational or tuition credits for internships, but educational credit is not a requirement in order for the internship to be unpaid. Individuals can complete internship positions for their own personal educational benefit.

Internships are often entry level positions and assistant positions, so interns can gain on-the-job experience in their field. That experience can assist in a later job hunt.

How is an Intern Different from an Independent Contractor?

Independent contractors are self-employed. They offer their services on a contract or freelance basis. Small business owners, sales people and brokers, consultants, and writers are professionals who often work as independent contractors.

Independent contractors pay their own taxes. They keep their own records of expenses and deductions in order to report to the IRS along with earned income. Most independent contractors pay a self-employment tax and purchase their own insurance and liability coverage policies.

If legal questions arise about whether or not a worker is considered an independent contractor, there are several factors to consider. The level of compensation, the nature of the work, the nature of the training, the level of oversight and instruction in the position, the level of skill required in the position, and the beliefs of the parties involved are all considered when determining if a job is legally considered an internship or an independent contractor position.

How is an Intern Different from an Employee?

An employee is paid a salary, offered benefits, and works with the expectation of continued employment. Employees are expected to contribute to the productivity of the employer rather than working for educational benefit. 

Which Laws Protect Interns?

The Fair Labor Standards Act contains rules for legal internships. There are six criteria an unpaid internship must meet:

  • The internship must provide educational experience similar to what a classroom curriculum would include.
  • Interns must benefit from the internship.
  • Internships cannot replace full time employee positions.
  • The internship doesn’t directly benefit the employer.
  • Internships do not guarantee employment after the internship is over.
  • Both employer and intern are aware that the internship is legally unpaid.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you believe you have worked as an employee or independent contractor under the guise of an unpaid internship, an employment lawyer can advise you of your options.

Photo of page author Danielle Winterton

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 05-25-2016 12:15 PM PDT

Law Library Disclaimer
  • No fee to present your case
  • Choose from lawyers in your area
  • A 100% confidential service
What is LegalMatch?

We've helped more than 4 million clients find the right lawyer – for free. Present your case online in minutes. LegalMatch matches you to pre-screened lawyers in your city or county based on the specifics of your case. Within 24 hours experienced local lawyers review it and evaluate if you have a solid case. If so, attorneys respond with an offer to represent you that includes a full attorney profile with details on their fee structure, background, and ratings by other LegalMatch users so you can decide if they're the right lawyer for you.