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Do Interns Have to Be Paid in California? Understanding California Internship Laws


If you are applying for an internship in California, you are likely wondering if your internship will be paid or unpaid. While it may not be unlawful to offer unpaid internships, there are certain rules California employers must follow under state and federal law to keep unpaid internships legal.

Both state and federal laws have established clear guidelines that determine when it's appropriate to have an unpaid intern, or if an intern should be paid minimum wage.

What are Federal Unpaid Internship Laws?

The U.S. Department of Labor has set requirements for determining whether an unpaid internship is legal. Under federal law, a California employer must adhere to the following:

  • Ensure that interns have training that is similar to training provided in a vocational school.
  • Ensure that internships benefit the interns, not the business.
  • Ensure that interns work under close observation and do not displace regular employees.
  • Ensure that the business does not derive immediate advantage from intern activities, and understand that business operations may actually be impeded.
  • Ensure that interns know that they are not entitled to jobs at the end of their internship period.
  • Ensure that there is a mutual awareness that interns are not entitled to wages during or after the internship period.

What are California Unpaid Internship Laws?

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) in California offers its own set of internship laws. All businesses in California must submit an outline of their proposed internships to the DLSE, and each internship must meet the following requirements to be approved:

  • Internships must be part of an established course of an accredited school or vocational training program.
  • Interns must be trained to work in a specific industry and not be trained to perform work that can only benefit one company.
  • Interns must not displace employees or do the work a paid employee would typically perform.
  • A school or agency must supervise internship training.
  • Employers must ensure that interns do not receive employee benefits, insurance, or workers comp.
  • Employers must ensure that potential interns are aware that internships are unpaid.

If your internship qualifies under these factors as an unpaid internship, state and federal laws will not consider your internship to be an employment relationship that qualifies for minimum wage or overtime pay.

An unpaid internship can often lead to a long, prosperous career in your chosen field. But if your California employer fails to follow internship guidelines under California and federal law, this could mean that your unpaid internship is illegal. Not paying interns is a common labor and employment violation in California when "interns" are used as unpaid labor.

If you think that your employer is violating your rights by not paying you for a so-called "internship," you may have legal grounds to sue. Contact our experienced California employment lawyers at Hennig Ruiz to discuss your legal rights today. Get a free consultation.

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