I know from many years of interning after college that not all companies treat their interns well. I also know this from working full-time at other places. Sadly, "the world needs ditch-diggers" is sometimes a manager's approach to handling this part of their workforce. And I know it isn't just my experience that suggests this: The New York Times has a report on the sadly growing trend of companies using their unpaid internships to have people fetching lunches, cleaning closets and other menial tasks.
To be sure, internships are character-builders and some interns feel anything less than doing top-level work is beneath them. But if you aren't giving your interns work of any value, you could find yourself getting slapped with a lawsuit by a litigious intern. True, the job market is weak, and unemployment is high, but that doesn't make it a buyer's market to mistreat interns. Here's how to make sure you're treating them right, from the Federal Labor Department's regulations:
• Unpaid interns must gain some type of vocational education from the internship.
• The internship is for the benefit of the interns.
• Interns can’t be used as substitutes for regular employees; instead, they have to be supervised by employees.
• The employer cannot derive immediate benefit from the intern’s work.
Also, can I add: learn their names. They're people, too, with hopes and dreams. Treat them as such.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.