In a tough job market, many people will take whatever they can get, whether that means jobs where they are underemployed, or even unpaid internships. Internships are an excellent way to gain experience and get a foot in the door, but employers sometimes take advantage of workers desperate for that experience. Under the law, unpaid internships are allowed only if the interns are learning while on the job, and if the employer does not materially benefit from the work performed by the intern.
As with most things, the law strives to ensure that the employee/employer relationship is an equal give-and-take, and that the workers benefit from the relationship as much as the employer. An intern who is learning a new skill or business is gaining a direct benefit from an unpaid internship.
On the other hand, a slew of recent wage and hour lawsuits claim that companies have allegedly been wrongfully taking advantage of this practice. Hollywood, in particular, has long been known to have a system in which anyone who wants to work in the business must start as an unpaid intern. That includes anyone who wants to work for a television network, movie studio, or music label. Everyone has to start at the bottom, but when the bottom amounts to little more than indentured servitude, it’s time for the law to step in.
As the recent lawsuits show, the new hires are no longer content to perform work without pay, simply for the possibility of a job later on down the line. It seems that, as the job market declines, workers are less likely to tolerate unfairness from their employers.
One such lawsuit is a class action that was filed against NBCUniversal. The lawsuit claims that the studio allegdly illegally used unpaid interns to perform tasks for which the interns should have been paid, including fetching coffee, taking out the trash, and organizing calendars. These are tasks that do not require a particular set of skills and cannot constitute a learning experience for the employee.
The class action has been settled for $6.4 million, which will be distributed among thousands of unpaid interns who performed work for NBC, including those who worked on the studio’s famous “Saturday Night Live”.
Normally, when the courts rule in large lawsuits, such as the one against NBC, people look forward to (or prepare for) a change in the law, and often a change in business practices, but that is not always the case. Each lawsuit must be treated individually, and while judges refer to the rulings of other courts, ultimately, they have to make their own decisions, and make sure they are appropriate to each case.
The recent lawsuit is the largest one to hit Hollywood so far, but whether it will have any lasting effects in America’s entertainment industry has yet to be seen. Cheryl Orr, an attorney with Drinker Biddle & Reath, a national employment law practice, said that she “would not put too much stock in the ‘precedent’ created by” the NBCUniversal settlement. As they say, old habits, such as those alleged here, die hard. NBCUniversal denies the claims and admitted to no wrongdoing.
The Illinois overtime attorneys and Chicago FLSA attorneys at the Chicago Overtime Law Center are investigating unpaid overtime claims against Newspapers, Magazines, Media Companies, Hotels, Restaurants, Retail Stores and Chains, Banks and real-estate companies for misclassifying appraisers or loan officers as managers, erasing or altering time sheets or time records, pressuring workers not to report or record overtime, and otherwise failing to pay workers for overtime and other wages. If you are the victim this practice call us at (312) 869-4095 or contact us online.
The Chicago unpaid overtime lawyers at the Chicago Overtime Law Center have decades of experience fighting for wage earner’s rights. We have a team of Chicago unpaid overtime attorneys who focus on nationwide class action lawsuits and work out of Chicago and Oak Brook offices and prosecute claims for workers all over the Chicago area including Joliet and Waukegan. We protect unpaid workers who haven’t received overtime throughout the Chicago area including in DuPage, McHenry Kane and Cook Counties.
Our North Chicago and West Chicago overtime lawyers are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime cases well. Many employers misclassify employees as being exempt from overtime laws and pay workers salaries instead of hourly wages in order to avoid paying them overtime. Some employers mistakenly classify employees as exempt and others intentionally do so in order to circumvent the law. In either case, workers do not receive the wages they should, and a lawsuit may be the only way to recover their earned wages.
The Chicago Overtime Law Center is based in Chicago, and represents clients throughout the country including in Naperville and Aurora who have not been paid for the overtime hours that they worked. If you believe that you are owed overtime wages, contact one of our Chicago class action attorneys by phone at (312) 869-4095 or through our online form.