Internships have skyrocketed in popularity as they become the new entry-level position for professional careers across the country. Despite their popularity, the legality of internships falls in a gray area created by a vague statute and a flexible, factor-based judicial test. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which regulates employment relationships and importantly mandates a minimum wage and hour requirements, was written long before internships became commonplace and provides little direction for how to regulate these positions. In this void, both the Department of Labor and federal courts have developed guidance, the ultimate culmination of which is the modern primary beneficiary test.
The equestrian industry’s attempt at internships is a position known as a “working student.” These positions did not arise in the same Petrie dish or era as many other internships. Instead, this type of internship is an ages-old derivative of the barter economy and apprenticeships. In short, a young, developing equestrian exchanges her labor for benefits such as training and housing—but, notably, not FLSA-complaint wages—with a professional equestrian. This position is seen both as a rite of passage into a career as an equestrian but also as an opportunity to test the waters of the industry. Working students work long hours, take on physically intensive tasks, and are often fully immersed in the industry and their positions.
Do these positions pass the modern primary beneficiary test? This Note applies the factors of the test to the facts of the working student position and asserts that, for many working students, the answer is ‘no.’ This analysis is largely based on an extensive survey and interviews with working students, which were compiled by the Author and further explained within. Finally, this Note suggests solutions that will preserve the significant benefits of the working student position while bringing the equestrian industry into compliance.