Ask The Lawyer: Is it legal to ask someone to work without pay?


QUESTION: My neighbor’s daughter asked if she could work at my company, for free, as an intern this summer to gain experience to put on her resume. I’d like to take her up on the offer, but don’t know if it’s legal to ask someone to work without pay.

ANSWER: Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, unpaid internships are allowed only if the internship meets each of the following six criteria:

  1. The internship is similar to the training that might be given in an educational environment.
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern, not the employer.
  3. The work the intern does not “displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.” That is, you should not use an intern to take over work you would normally pay to have done.
  4. Your company doesn’t receive any immediate advantage from the work performed by the intern – in fact, the intern’s activities might even slow things down!
  5. You don’t promise the intern a job at the conclusion of the internship.
  6. You and the intern both understand that the intern is not entitled to any pay for time spent in the internship.

If an intern is entitled to pay, he or she must be paid at least minimum wage, plus overtime, if applicable.

The more an internship is structured as an educational experience, the more likely it is to be viewed as an internship – but it still must meet all six of the above factors to pass muster under the FLSA. If you’re willing to take the young woman on as an intern, you may receive a non-financial benefit: teaching can be its own reward.

The lawyers at GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at

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GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC, is a Troy based law firm representing clients from Warren, Sterling Heights, Ferndale, Royal Oak, Oak Park, Oakland and Wayne Counties and all of Southeast Michigan

By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 247-3300
(248) 247-3310 facsimile
[email protected]