More about unpaid interns and underpaid employees

If you have any conception that business can have a moral component, you need to read more about the unpaid intern scandal. (I’ve linked to a New York Times editorial by Juliet Lapidos, who relates her experience as an unpaid intern.) I’m the one calling it a scandal, although maybe someone else has. Or should.

Here are a few paragraphs from Lapidos’s editorial:

Employers see nothing wrong with soliciting free labor on public forums. This month, a high-level editor at Lean In, the foundation Sheryl Sandberg started to help women “pursue their ambitions,” tried using Facebook to find a “part-time, unpaid” intern “with editorial and social chops” as well as “Web skills.” After an uproar — how could Lean In, of all places, lean on interns? — the foundation president promised to set up a more formal internship program, with compensation.

Unpaid internships are, at best, ethically iffy. A necessary precursor to jobs in certain fields, they act as both a gateway and a barrier to entry. Young people believe they have no choice. Anyone unable to forgo pay risks being shut out.

Taking advantage of people, most of them young, so hungry for jobs and potential careers that they’ll accept working for businesses that could pay them, but don’t, is more than amoral: it’s ugly.

Moreover, there are jobs out there that do pay but have young employees working monster hours (one place I know of has employees working from 8 in the morning until 10 at night) without paying overtime. These young people have to get to work so early that most of them must get up at 5 in the morning (because how many young people willing to take jobs at $12 an hour can afford to live in Manhattan near that job), and don’t get home until midnight.

According to New York State’s Department of Labor, this is illegal. (Wages and Hours – New York State Department of Labor.) The company gets around it by employing these people for no longer than 40 hours a week. Mandated overtime doesn’t kick in until 40 hours are reached.

So there are companies who must know — I mean, these are businesses, right? run by business people, right? — that their working hours are punitive, underpaid and deceitful in evading outright illegality, but who don’t do anything about it until someone (a young worker? a young worker’s parents?) complains.

Or sues.

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