The law regarding unpaid internships gaining widespread attention

Bogus internships have been the topic of recent media headlines-forcing many students looking to gain workplace experience to pay attention.

Former interns have filed lawsuits against companies they previously worked as free interns. The lawsuits allege that the employers failed to abide by the requirements of internships as stipulated under the Fair Labor Standards Act and they should have been paid for their work.

Understanding the law regarding internships

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are allowed to skirt the minimum wage laws and hire individuals, known as interns, for free as long as they follow certain guidelines.

Interns must be given training and experience comparable to what they would receive in a classroom setting and the internship must be "for the benefit of the intern."

However, these former interns argue their job duties were far from beneficial. Instead, they claim that they were simply gophers or assistants and weren't given valuable on-the-job experience they could walk away with.

Interns who worked for various media entities this past summer including Warner Music Group, Atlantic Records and Gawker Media, are among those who filed lawsuits.

Specific case

The most recent lawsuit involves a former intern who worked for Donna Karen International in New York City while pursuing a Bachelor's degree in 2009.

In the complaint, the intern alleges that his job responsibilities included simply getting coffee and organizing clothing 16 hours every week. He and others are seeking back pay.

He is also seeking to obtain approval to get his lawsuit certified as a class action. (A class action lawsuit involves lumping in other parties who suffered similar experiences.)

The outcome

It remains to be seen what the outcome will be for these lawsuits. Legal experts, however, believe that the exposure will likely mean more will be filed against employers who skirt the law to get around hiring free labor.

Roughly 20 percent of the over one million internships provided every year in the U.S. are unpaid.

One can only imagine how many of these internships are failing to provide the mandated vocational training stipulated under the law.

Consulting with an employment law attorney

If you worked as a free-intern and have questions regarding your job responsibilities and whether your employer provided adequate vocational training, speaking with a knowledge attorney who understands the intricate areas of the law is advised.