What are the rules around having unpaid interns?


What are the rules around having unpaid interns? We’re a San Francisco startup. Are we allowed to legally bring on interns without paying them?


Steve Hoffman

Captain Hoff

by Steve Hoffman, Cofounder of Founders Space

In California, you must pay your interns at least minimum wage, unless the internship you are offering qualifies as part of an educational course. In most cases, the jobs interns are given do not qualify and I wouldn’t risk it.

It may vary state-to-state, but to be on the safe side, you should pay your interns at least minimum wage. Then you don’t have to worry about getting in trouble with the Labor Department.  Also, by paying interns in a work-for-hire arrangement, you help avoid any disputes over intellectual property.  For example, if an intern contributes ideas to your product but isn’t paid, the intern can claim they own part of it.  This can be a real headache down the road.

Lastly, check out this article in the NY Times:


I hope this helps!

Comments & Advice:
  1. Melissa says:

    Ally, why did you accept a clearly stated UNPAID internship just to then go around and show proof they have to pay you? Why not instead reject unpaid internships and go for a paid one?

  2. Ally says:

    Do you happen to know the exact law/code that details that you must pay your interns at least minimum wage? I was just hired for an “unpaid” internship by a start up in SF and I’d like to have the exact proof with me when I approach the subject. Thanks!