Earlier this month, 40 former and current interns of Dualstar Entertainment Group filed a class action lawsuit. The plaintiffs argue that the company, owned by former Full House stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, should have paid its interns no less than minimum wage because their jobs were similar to their paid colleagues, and they did not receive any academic or vocational credit.
While these allegations, if true, seem to clearly go against the standards set forth by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, I’m more interested in examining the moral and ethical implications of unpaid internships, particularly those implemented by for-profit companies, and how they can negatively impact a brand.
It’s easy to look back upon the broke college days and laugh about Ramen Noodle dinners and double-digit bank statements. But in the moment, it’s often a real struggle that leads to unhealthy eating habits, excessive stress and other unfortunate problems. Employers who went through it should understand that a paycheck of any size, even minimum wage, makes an enormous difference for those students struggling to get by.
Mary-Kate and Ashley, on the other hand, were each worth an estimated $150 million during the year they attended NYU. This is not a knock on their early success; it’s a knock on their utter lack of empathy for the unpaid interns contributing to their for-profit venture.
The case against the Olsen twins portrays them as shrewd and greed-driven businesspeople, regardless of the legal outcome. If a company is willing to exploit its own team members, including interns, what’s to stop them from taking advantage of their customers and business partners as well?
Compensation is more than a financial decision; it’s a values decision. Politics aside, most can agree Vice President Joe Biden nailed it when he said, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” Employers – don’t tell your interns they’re valued. Step up and show them.
Brian Hart is the founder and president of Flackable, LLC, a national public relations agency supporting the communications needs of registered investment advisors (RIAs) and other forward-thinking financial services firms. To learn more about Flackable, please visit www.flackable.com.