Question:

Has the issue of the modern practice of unpaid internships ever been addressed by poskim? I’m referring to the situation in which an ’employee’ legally agrees to work without compensation in order to gain experience in the workplace.

Does this present any halachic, besides ethical, problems for the employer?

Answer:

In Talmudic times there was a similar apprentice arrangement, called שוליא דנגרי (an apprentice of a carpenter). There the apprentice boy lived in the “masters” home was given food and board, and was taught the trade, but he was like a semi-servant, and he had to do whatever the master told him to do. Needless to say he was given any monetary compensation.   He was given all he needs, and was taught the trade.

Nowadays the apprentice, is not actually being taught the basics of the trade, however since he still doesn’t have experience, there is still a lot for him to learn. Being successful at a job is not just a matter of book knowledge; it also needs the practical hands on. He still needs to be guided, because there are practical things that he still needs to learn, which in a way is a bother, and time consuming for the employer. There are many businesses that will not hire an employee without experience even without pay.

From a monetary perspective, if this is what was agreed, and this is the local custom, then the employee doesn’t have any claim against the employer. However from a practical standpoint it would be wise for the employer to make sure that his employee is satisfied with the arrangement.

Sources:

Ritva Shabbos 78a, Moshav Zekeinim Shmos29-35, Ahavas Yisroel (Berger) Berishis pg. 82, CH”M 331 1-2.

Tags: employee intership

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