Differentiating Between Interns and Employees Under the Fair Labor Standards Act in Georgia

On Sept. 25, Warner Bros. Pictures released “The Intern,” a film starring Robert DeNiro as an intern at an e-commerce fashion company. Two weeks earlier, in an event of potentially much greater significance to interns in Georgia and the employers who use them, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision that revived the Fair Labor Standards Act case brought by a group of interns. It included a new, seven-part test for determining whether a worker is an intern or an employee for purposes of the statute.

The case involved a group of students pursuing masters’ degrees as registered nurse anesthetists. As a mandatory part of their educational program, students were required to complete a clinical curriculum. For Billy Schumann and 24 other Wolford College students, this consisted of spending 16 months as interns at Collier Anesthesia, a service provider in Naples, Fla. The interns were not paid for the services they provided at Collier.

The students eventually launched a FLSA action against Collier and Wolford for unpaid wages and overtime. The trial court, following a 1947 US Supreme Court case (Walling v Portland Terminal Co.) and a 2010 guidance document from the US Department of Labor, concluded that the students’ time at Collier benefitted them more than the provider, meaning that they were not employees under the FLSA and not entitled to the pay they sought.

The 11th Circuit, however, decided this was the wrong approach. The court determined that the six-part test the Department of Labor created in 2010 merely tracked the Supreme Court’s Walling decision and that the trainees in Walling were so different from the nurse anesthetist students working at Collier that the Walling ruling did not directly apply. In that 1947 case, the trainees were individuals who underwent a seven-to-eight-day training program as railroad yard brakemen. The company used this program to assemble a pool of potential employees for its future use.

The nurse anesthetist interns, though, were in a very different position. They were participating in a “universal clinical-placement requirement necessary to obtain a generally applicable advanced academic degree and professional certification and licensure.” Since┬áthis was far different than the training of the brakemen, the court decided to utilize a seven-part test for analyzing whether an intern or an employer was the “primary beneficiary” of the services the intern provided, which the 2d Circuit crafted earlier this year in a New York case, Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures. The test looked at factors such as whether both employer and intern clearly understood that the internship was unpaid and that the intern is not guaranteed a job at the employer’s facility after graduation, whether the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education and is similar to training that might occur in an educational setting, whether the internship does or does not follow the intern’s academic calendar, and whether the intern’s work tends to complement or to displace regular employees.

The court then sent the case back to the trial court for analysis based upon this new test.

The Schumann decision is a potentially groundbreaking one for Georgia interns and employers who use unpaid interns, and it may call for employers to rethink the way they use unpaid interns. As a Georgia employer or employee, if you believe you’ve been wrongfully denied wages or overtime, it is important to work with legal counsel who is familiar with all the latest developments in the law. The skilled Georgia wage violations attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert have the up-to-date knowledge and keen determination needed to help you with your FLSA issues.

To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 404-873-8048.

More blog posts:

Monitoring Radio Is Not Enough to Transform Breaks Into Work Time, Holds 6th Cir., Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, March 25, 2015

Courts Continue to Clarify What Constitutes an Employee, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Dec. 3, 2014

Contact Information