How to take action against your illegal internship

Business, Consumer protection, Crime, Rights, Tips & how-to

If you have taken the quiz and think your internship is illegal, don’t panic. Your internship will still “count” and won’t be invalidated in any way if your company is later found to have unfair labor practices. Should you want to take action, you have several options, including a filing a complaint with the Department of Labor, filing a complaint with your state labor department, and finding a lawyer to help you file a lawsuit.

File a complaint with the Department of Labor

Filing a complaint with the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is probably the simplest method. This approach also has the benefit of being highly confidential. The WHD considers your complaint secret, and they’ll only give information on it if they’re facing a court order. Even if the WHD needs to reveal your identity in order to pursue a claim, they’ll ask for your permission first.

Once you file a claim with the WHD, they’ll begin an evaluation of the case. If they believe your situation warrants an investigation, they’ll start looking into your employer’s activities. Each investigation is slightly different, so whether or not you’ll be interviewed by the investigator will depend on your circumstances.

If the WHD determines that your employer violated labor laws, the WHD investigator will meet with your employer and explain what steps they need to take in order to correct the situation. This typically includes paying wages to employees who should have received them, and correcting any violations of labor laws.

File a complaint with your state labor department

Depending on where you live, you might also have the option of filing a complaint with your state’s labor department. Many states have their own wage and hour divisions, which also perform investigations of this type. But this isn’t true for every state, and a state that doesn’t have such a division will likely just tell you to contact the federal Department of Labor.

File a lawsuit

Keep in mind that filing a complaint isn’t the only approach you can take. You also have the option of filing a lawsuit. While it used to be quite rare for unpaid interns to sue their employer, recent developments have made this a more and more frequent occurrence.

If you choose to go the route of a lawsuit, there are a few things to know. First, most unpaid internship lawsuits take the form of a class action lawsuit. While this requires a group of people in similar circumstances (a “class”), it only needs one person to file on their behalf.

Second, most lawsuits of this type do not end in a judgment. It’s far more likely for the parties to come to an agreement, or “settlement,” about what should be paid. No two settlements are alike, but unpaid internship settlements are often based on the pay interns would have been entitled to.

This article originally appeared with Avvo’s “Is your internship legal?” quiz. Take the quiz now to find out if your internship is legal or not.

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