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  • Payton Employment Law

Is Your Internship Legal? Rights & Guidelines You Should Know Ahead of Your Internship

For many college students, securing the elusive summer internship promises valuable real-world experience and the opportunity to explore career options. With a space to learn and offer fresh perspectives, interns also benefit employers, providing additional support for daily tasks.


Unfortunately, the exploitation of interns is not something that’s unheard of. In some cases, employers have made interns perform the same duties as full-time employees without providing fair compensation or benefits. Other examples include workplace harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination, and unpaid overtime.


While the offer of a fulfilling internship can and should be exciting, you should always keep your radar up for potential exploitation from your employer. All interns in California have rights, and at Payton Employment Law, PC, we want to help ensure that these rights are at the forefront of your mind as you begin – or finish – your internship.


How do I know if I’m being properly classified as an intern?


As an intern, your classification can fall under employee or volunteer. How you’re classified, or should have been classified (if your employer failed to classify you properly), will determine whether your employer is following California law.


Employee: If you’re an intern and you receive compensation, you're classified as an employee. If you’re an intern that’s considered an employee, you should receive compensation.


Volunteer: Interns classified as volunteers are individuals who volunteer or offer their services without pay, typically for the purpose of public service for a non-profit or government agency. Oftentimes, volunteer interns receive academic credit in lieu of pay.


If you suspect misclassification in your internship, you have the right to seek financial compensation for unpaid wages.


How can I confirm that my unpaid internship is legal?


In California, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) offers its own set of internship laws. All businesses must submit a comprehensive outline of their proposed internships to the DLSE, ensuring that the following guidelines are met:


  • The internship must be a part of an established course of an accredited school or institution.

  • Intern must be trained to work in a specific industry.

  • Intern must not displace employees.

  • The internship must be supervised by a school or agency.

  • The intern cannot receive any benefits or health insurance.

  • The intern must be aware that the position is unpaid.


Noncompliance with these guidelines by your employer could result in your internship being deemed illegal, which would then make you eligible for minimum wage and overtime pay under the California Labor Code.


Am I protected by the law from harassment and discrimination as an intern?


As an intern in California, you are entitled to a workplace free from harassment and discrimination. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (California Government Code section 12940) strictly forbids employers from engaging in any form of harassment or discrimination against interns based on their race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religion, national origin any other legally protected classification set forth in Government Code section 12940.


If you believe your labor rights have been violated during your internship in the state of California, contact our team of experienced attorneys for a confidential review of your case and to learn more about your options.


The information provided in this blog post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. All content and information in this blog post are for general informational purposes only. Reading this blog post does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship. An attorney-client relationship is only created by written agreement.


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