The first book-length examination of the sociological, economic, educational, and legal aspects of internships, Ross Perlin’s Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy (2011), has been published by Verso.
This is a badly needed book. As Perlin writes, internships are “a new and distinctive form, located at the nexus of transformations in higher education and the workplace.” During the past few decades, internships have become a virtual requirement for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in many fields. Perlin estimates that “between 1 and 2 million people participate in internships each year in the U.S.”
In other words, we’re talking about a practice that involves a lot of people, mostly younger folks readying themselves for entry into a profession.
“Intern Bill of Rights”
In an Appendix, Perlin sets out his “Intern Bill of Rights,” a statement of nine provisions concerning compensation, fair treatment, legal protections, and personal dignity. It’s an excellent starting place for developing best practices and sound public policies covering interns.
“A Lawsuit Waiting to Happen”
Unfortunately, many interns are unpaid — as I have written, often in apparent violation of minimum wage laws. Perlin takes this thread and builds it into a chapter examining the many legal implications of internships.
Perlin makes special note of situations involving sexual harassment of unpaid student interns. He concludes, “This is the part you didn’t know; when something does happen, unpaid interns are largely on their own, without protection or recourse, caught in a frightening legal limbo.”
I raised many of these legal concerns in my 2002 law review article, “The Employment Law Rights of Student Interns,” which Perlin graciously cites as the “best single source of information for American internships and the law.” You can download a free copy here.