I love free trials as much as the next person. Maybe it started at Baskin-Robbins, where we got those tiny spoons to taste the 31 flavors–which I’ve heard they won’t let you sample during the same visit. Today, we can use the 30-day free trials of software, test mattresses and cars overnight, go to wine and beer tastings, get free legal consultations (not necessarily from me), and take advantage of school internship programs before we hire an employee on a more permanent basis. Unfortunately, some people still take advantage of other forms of unpaid labor.
We might want the “too good to be true” deal, but that doesn’t mean we get it–especially at the expense of others. This seems like an easy concept to understand, yet I am regularly consulted by people who justify their unfair or illegal behavior as follows:
- “Everyone in this industry does it.” No. They don’t. I’d be willing to bet I can find competitors in your industry that strictly follow labor laws. They are often (although not always) the ones struggling a bit more, yet happy they are in their businesses.
- “I paid in ways other than wages.” That’s nice, but exposure doesn’t keep a roof over anyone’s head; it leaves them exposed. Telling the grocery store clerk about a cool project or employer will rarely get a worker dinner. If you’re a for-profit business and the worker was not getting educational credit for the tasks performed, you probably still owe wages. Experience, lunches, and other perquisites, or “perks”, are not wages.
- “We were still interviewing or testing him.” No. The moment you asked the interviewee to come back on a specific date and at a specific time to show his skill on your existing task list or project, you likely hired him. A test is usually short and generic, providing you only the benefit of knowing whether he has the skills to do specific work. A shift of three or more hours is typically training, and training is part of work you pay for at the minimum wage.
I know there are famous business, career, and financial gurus who encourage people to volunteer to work in new industries, while they build their skills and marketability in those industries. I also know they are typically non-lawyers and outside of New York State. One of them invited me to volunteer at an event he held in New York City. He earned tens of thousands of dollars from ticket sales for the event, yet he staffed it with people who got nothing more than experience and exposure–to people attending the event. The workers got no pay, no tickets, none of his books, or anything of monetary value for their work at the event. He arguably broke the law and has the funds to pay the penalties, if he gets caught. You probably won’t. Don’t take the risk.
For more on worker misclassification risks, see:
- What Are My Risks When Hiring a Freelancer?
- Nance L. Schick Talks to A Place for Mom About Caregivers Suing
- How to Respond to a NYS WCB Penalty Notice
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, and United Nations representative. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (ICERM). She is also creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master, and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018 & 2019), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (Finalist, 2013 Pitch Competition).