Dear Tell All: I've been job-searching in Madison for several months now. Apparently, many businesses these days expect job applicants to undergo unpaid training or "working interviews" before starting a job or being offered a position. At a couple of businesses on the east side, I was asked to work for an hour or more as an interview. I've heard from Madisonians who were expected to train or work for two days unpaid at nonprofits and large companies in the area.
A few sources online suggest that this unpaid work or training is illegal. Is that so?
I'm curious to hear if other people in Madison are being subjected to this. It can feel degrading to be given work and no pay, and you may feel foolish to work hard without any promise of remuneration. If you're not offered the job, you've wasted your time.
Even unemployed people have better things to do! If this is not illegal, can we at least agree that it's rude?
Jobless in Madison
Dear Jobless: This type of unpaid work is legally questionable, according to Patrick Hickey of the Workers' Rights Center of Madison. Hickey told me that "under the Fair Labor Standards Act, workers must be paid at least minimum wage for all hours worked. The Federal Department of Labor has a six-part test to determine whether training can be unpaid or needs to be compensated. The main point is whether the employer derives any immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees in the training process. If trainees are performing the actual work of the business, they need to be paid."
I can see where the employers are coming from. Watching prospective employees at work is a way to see if they're a good fit. And a short working stint could also let job-seekers figure out if a company is right for them. Making the wrong choice, on either side, would waste a lot of time and effort.
But then there's the matter of legality. And as you point out, Jobless, there's also the matter of degradation. Readers, what do you think?
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