The Truth About Public Sector Employers and Interns

The Truth About Public Sector Employers and Interns by Alan Krystal

{2:30 minutes to read} Following the publication of my last blog post, “The Truth About Interns,” I received an inquiry about whether public sector employers had similar obligations.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, there are exceptions under certain circumstances for individuals who volunteer to perform services for a state or local government agency, and for individuals who volunteer for humanitarian purposes for private non-profit food banks. These types of internships “where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation, are generally permissible.” [1]

In addition, public sector volunteers can be excepted as “covered employees” as in the case of the Congressional Accountability Act. However, the federal government has come under criticism as some see this type of arrangement as exploitation at a time when legislation is being proposed to raise the minimum wage and expand worker rights. Therefore, this is an area that merits close attention in the future.

With respect to non-profits, states such as New York permit unpaid volunteer work in a not-for-profit organization, if that organization is set up and operates strictly for charitable, educational or religious purposes. Students working in a not-for-profit organization or institution are exempt from minimum wage laws, so long as the organization satisfies the aforementioned criteria and the student attends an institution of learning with courses leading to a degree, certificate or diploma. The work experience need not relate to the student’s field of study.

Summer interns will be deemed exempt if they were enrolled students during the preceding semester and have not yet graduated. [2]

However, if an organization does pay the intern a stipend, that could lead to an ultimate classification of the intern as an employee, creating the obligation to pay the intern at least minimum wage. Therefore, non-profits should carefully examine applicable federal and state law before entering into an internship arrangement.




Alan Krystal


Alan Krystal

Alan H. Krystal, P.C.
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