New bill would set aside $5B to pay Senate interns
- A bill that would set aside $5 million in Congressional appropriations for the purpose of compensating U.S. Senate interns has passed in both chambers and now must be reconciled, according to records.
- The federal $1.3 trillion omnibus bill passed in March included a 9% increase in the Senate expense account used for staffing, equipment, travel and mail, according to Roll Call.
- But not all Washington lawmakers have used increased funds from the omnibus bill to pay their interns — in fact, 51% of U.S. senators have chosen not to do so, according to data from Pay Our Interns, a bipartisan, non-profit organization.
The issue of paying Congressional interns mirrors a debate playing out in the private sector. Some schools forbid students from receiving pay for an internship if the arrangement is part of an academic requirement, and employers who view internships as little more than opportunities to gain work experience argue against internships meriting compensation. But advocacy groups counter that students and graduates should be paid for their work, particularly since many, if not most, can't afford to take unpaid positions.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the U.S. Department of Labor replaced a six-factor test that determined whether interns should be paid with a more lax seven-factor test in part based on which of the two parties — the employer or the intern — is the "primary beneficiary" of the relationship. The former test put the onus on employers to justify not paying interns for their work, a position several federal appeals courts rejected.
In hiring interns and deciding whether to pay them, employers must consider their states' laws on paid internships. James Paul, a shareholder in Ogletree Deakins, told HR Dive in a February interview that many states still follow the six-factor test, and some might develop their own set of rules. Employers who choose not to pay interns must be able to document their relationship with the student or graduate. Another consideration is cost, both in terms of dollars and liability risk.
- Congress.gov Text: H.R.5895 — 115th Congress (2017-2018)
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