Thursday, February 02, 2012

Intern sues Harper's Bazaar over unpaid work

A recent intern for Harper's Bazaar magazine has launched a lawsuit against the magazine's owners, Hearst Corporation, saying that her four-month internship violated labour laws because it was unpaid. According to a story from Reuters
Xuedan Wang, 28, was an intern at the magazine's accessories department from August to December last year, where she typically worked at least 40 hours a week, and sometimes as much as 55 hours, without pay, according to her lawsuit filed on Wednesday.
"Unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours they work," the lawsuit says.
Wang's suit described interns as "a crucial labor force" at Hearst. 
"If the interns weren't doing the work then they would have to hire someone else to do it," Elizabeth Wagoner, one of Wang's lawyers, said in an interview -- a sign, she said, that labor laws are being broken.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, a company can offer unpaid internships only if they have an educational benefit to the intern, and not necessarily the employer.
The department says that unpaid interns must not displace regular employees and that "the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded."



Anonymous Edinburgh Flats said...

Good info. Thanks for sharing.

2:19 pm  
Anonymous Sympathetic said...

Wang got some bad advice, nobody in the industry will hire Wang now for a full time job. By suing Wang will be portrayed as a troublemaker and who wants to hire a troublemaker.

3:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She was an intern. Last time I checked, interns are not paid - they work in exchange for the experience.

This woman is not only a troublemaker, she is an idiot.

4:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She's doing a great thing for everyone in the industry. She deserves our respect and support.

4:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interns are routinely exploited for free labour in the magazine business. Like anyone being abused who complains, I guess from the angle of the abuser, by complaining, she needs to be punished. That way, the abuse can continue unabated.

3:40 am  
Anonymous Greg MacNeil said...

The concept is that interns work in exchange for experience.

We often tried to hire the best of them full time. A couple of our former interns are editors today. So it is an excellent and inexpensive recruiting tool.

But, when one publisher advised me that they planned on bringing in four interns, I asked that they pay them a small bonus at the end of the a thank you. Once we agreed on the amount, they decided that they only needed two interns.

It is a valuable concept as long as the rules are clearly defined and as long as the interns are treated fairly. They're not there to fetch coffee. They're there to learn.

Suing, however, was unwise.

Greg MacNeil

9:55 am  
Anonymous ex (un)paid intern said...

Once upon a time the trade was unpaid labour for experience, but it is safe to say that the viability of many publishing outfits these days is based on the rich supply of people they can draw from without having to compensate them with even a stipend.

Unpaid labour is now a part of the business plan for many, and day to day operations depend on it. I doubt 20 years ago a publication would have had the chutzpah to 'offer' a 16 week unpaid internship.

So here we are at a point where the labour laws designed to protect workers from exploitation are being applied to what once was a good opportunity to get some job experience.

I'd imagine the steady stream of students attending and graduating from J-school with the condition that they complete an internship to satisfy course requirements has become a very helpful labour law loophole for publications who enjoy a pretty decent return on zero investment and a perverse incentive for revenue hungry schools to admit more people to j-school programs than they really ought to.

1:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She's not an idiot or troublemaker... she's exposing a bad business practice and I suspect she used the intern experience as a career move in journalism or labour law. Working 40-55 hours a week for 16 is exploitive. I seem to remember interns working for one month back in the day.

12:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I suspect she used the intern experience as a career move in journalism or labour law."

Yes, working as an intern can provide valuable work experience. Subsequently suing the magazine because she wasn't paid (even though she agreed to work for free) will not help her career one bit.

The first anonymous hit it right on the head. She is a troublemaker, and an idiot.

2:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most editors wouldn't hire anyone these days. Openings are few and far in between, and can only go to handpicked candidates.

She has no future in magazines, but that is a given for anyone who openly calls for change.

11:04 pm  

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