Tag Archives: work

Free-Range Workers Crossing the Highway of Life

“Free-Range” has become a buzzword applied to everything from poultry to children. And in its broadest sense it applies to today’s workers too.

via Huffington Post

via Huffington Post

I spoke with a man recently who told me about looming layoffs in the financial sector (see this; plus this about the oil industry; and this NYT list of its articles about layoff big and small). He said companies in his arena were shedding people in response to future uncertainty about the Eurozone, among other issues. It doesn’t solve long-term finance industry problems to cut workers, but it does address the balance sheet.

This may sound completely durh to many of you, but in listening to him I thought… We’re out of the Great Recession, but we’re still in a period where people are getting laid off, sometimes en masse, to solve balance-sheet problems they only superficially have anything to do with. In other words, you may end up doing the best you can at a job you like and still have to hit the road through no fault of your own.

Most Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, with little to tide them over in periods of unemployment. Nearly half of the country couldn’t afford an unexpected $400 expense, let alone a month’s rent without income.


I’ve spent time over the past three years interviewing employees and entrepreneurs about how they see the job landscape today. There are more jobs, though often with less stable employment terms and wages, though that may change. (See global trends.)

So what are most of us? Well, free-range workers, which means we are free to run as fast as we can or to get creamed crossing the highway known as the current day job market. Whether we are employed by a company big or small or self-employed, most of us will have to spend more time monitoring the health of our industry and our company if we don’t want to be caught unawares by huge shifts that, on the surface, have nothing to do with our performance.

You can be doing the best you can at Job A for Company B, but if either A or B becomes vulnerable, then your income stream is vulnerable too. Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn has written about developing new compacts between employers and employees that take into account more mobility and volatility. That applies most easily to geographically mobile, information industry workers and companies that need and attract them. How does it work for people who can’t or won’t move from their hometown for family reasons, or those whose skills are considered more pedestrian?

Take The Right Work Survey

via Rivasolutionsinc.com

via Rivasolutionsinc.com

For a couple years now, I’ve been gathering stories and data for a book called The Right Work, about how you can serve your best interests as the job market and the very notion of careers evolve.

Right now I’m running a survey going out to a nationally representative sample of Americans, asking about factors affecting work and life/work synergy. I’d also love you to give me your two cents. You can do so here.

More soon… I’ll give an update on some of the findings.

When Interns Should Be Paid: A #ProjectIntern Explainer from Pro Publica

by Blair Hickman and Christie Thompson ProPublica, June 14, 2013, 1:05 p.m.

Are today’s internships a grim affair?

This week, a federal judge ruled that Fox Searchlight violated minimum wage laws for not paying two production interns. So what are those laws? Are unpaid internships ever OK?

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about intern pay.

What laws determine when an intern should or should not be paid?

The Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, regulates minimum wage and overtime for U.S. workers, including interns. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is responsible for enforcing the law, and has a six-factor test to determine whether interns at private sector employers must be paid minimum wage.

According to the Department of Labor, an unpaid internship must meet all these criteria:

  • The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment
  • It’s for the benefit of the intern
  • The intern doesn’t displace paid employees
  • The employer doesn’t benefit from work the intern is doing, “and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.”
  • The intern isn’t promised a job at the end (unpaid “tryouts” aren’t allowed)
  • Both the intern and their boss understand its an unpaid position

So are unpaid internships ever OK?

Very rarely, for work done at for-profit companies. According to the Department of Labor’s test, companies can’t derive an “immediate advantage” from an intern’s work. And in the private sector, work that doesn’t benefit the company is rare.

“It’s fair to say most private-sector employers who employ volunteers are violating the law,” said David Yamada, a professor of law at Suffolk University in Boston.

What if they provide a stipend or lunch money? Does that count?

Probably not, assuming it’s a private sector employee covered by the FLSA, according to Yamada. If an internship at a for-profit employer doesn’t meet the factors laid out in the six-point test, they most likely have to pay their interns minimum wage.

What about internships at nonprofits?

According to the Department of Labor, nonprofits have an additional exception for unpaid interns that “volunteer their time.” The government’s guidelines state that “unpaid internships in the public sector and for non-profit charitable organizations…are generally permissible.”

What about gigs with the government?

For most interns on Capitol Hill, it’s perfectly legal for them to be working for free. Congress conveniently exempted itself from the Fair Labor Standards Act, meaning they don’t have to pay their interns. (It’s just one of many workplace laws that Congress doesn’t have to follow.) Most federal-level internships, including the White House’s program, are also unpaid.

Does getting college credit mean it’s OK to not get paid?

Not really. Many companies attempt to use academic credit as legal justification for an unpaid internships. But this week’s “Black Swan” ruling suggests college credit is not a reason to not pay your interns, a move that, as Yamada put it, opens an “interesting door.”

From the judge’s decision: