Is it reasonable to expect overtime from unpaid interns?



I am a unpaid intern at a tech company and several weeks ago I had my first performance evaluation. While my manager told me that the code I had been submitting was excellent and that my work was more than solid, they noted that I had been leaving too early from work and that this called my dedication into question.

Now, our official start and ends times are from 9:30 to 6:00 so everyday for the past several weeks I have been working hard to finish my days tasks and then leaving at 6:00. When I asked why this was a problem the response I received was that I should always be looking for more work.

I really enjoy where I am working and I really want to leave a good impression with my manager however, as an unpaid intern, I don't think it's smart to burn myself out working 12-hour days, especially when I have been able to get my work done on time. I also have a number of responsibilities at home that make working late very difficult.

How should I best approach this situation with my manager? As I said, I took the feedback very seriously and want to show that I am a dedicated part of the team.

Dana Skully

Posted 2017-06-17T12:42:01.430

Reputation: 944

199Please tag this with your location. In the US, this "internship" would almost certainly violate Department of Labor regulationsalroc 2017-06-17T16:21:46.150


If you are in the U.S. please take note of the current laws regarding internships and when they must be paid vs unpaid:

McCann 2017-06-17T16:44:44.337

38Before you comment, check if you are using comments for their intended purpose. They are mainly to ask for clarification from the OP. If you are answering the question there is an answer box for that below. If you want to express your incredulity or lament the unfairness of unpaid internships please do so silently or take it to [chat].Lilienthal 2017-06-17T17:43:27.037

31@Lilienthal I think that expressing some empathy on the comments, while not the intended use of them, is far away from useless, even more so on a largely social place like The Workplace.T. Sar 2017-06-19T11:40:40.380

18Like most questions in /workplace could do with, could OP please update us with the outcome? :)Steve Smith 2017-06-19T13:24:31.937

From your post it's not completely clear if you are actually producing work until 6:00 or if you make sure you finish the task you were given for the day and then 'stare at the clock' until it's 6:00. If you're frequently done with your task well before the day ends, that's probably what is meant with 'looking for more work'. In general though, it seems like you're being treated like a normal paid employee by your boss, which is sounds like abuse. You might talk to someone from school about that (a mentor or somesuch).Cronax 2017-06-19T15:47:18.920

5'[you] should always be looking for more work' sounds like something someone's father would say to shame a kid into doing extra chores. Such nonsense has no place in industry (except, perhaps, during work hours), especially for an unpaid intern. Ambition and dedication are great, but they shouldn't require an imbalance in one's work/life ratio.CCJ 2017-06-19T20:02:50.053

What's unclear here are your task structure and when you "finish" so you can leave at 6pm. Playing devil's advocate that your manager phrased things badly. . . You said daily tasks - do you not have tasks that take more than one day to complete? Leave at 6pm - are you working right up until 6pm or do you have 1 hour or so at the end of the day where you've finished a "days" task and are waiting for the clock to get to 6pm?

Your manager may be concerned that you're wasting time at the end of the day and never taking on tasks that take longer than a day to complete. – iheanyi 2017-06-19T22:21:29.867

7Do you have some reason for staying in an unpaid internship when you already seem capable of delivering "solid work"? Is it mandatory for your university course or something? An unpaid internship is supposed to be a net gain to you despite being unpaid - ditch it as soon as you no longer feel that way. And learning a work culture that puts emphasis on "hours per day" (especially unpaid, or on a weekly/montly wage) is something you want to run away from, fast.Luaan 2017-06-20T06:47:10.673

1I'd advice you to make reviews on companies like this on sites like Glassdoor to warn others about what they can be getting themselves into.Jonast92 2017-06-20T13:23:31.437

9I wouldn't even expect overtime from paid workers.xDaizu 2017-06-20T15:38:32.557

If they are not paying for your labour. Then is the code you produce not yours to keep?Martin York 2017-06-20T20:40:14.290

I really enjoy where I am working and I don't think it's smart to burn myself out working 12-hour days seem somewhat contradictory. Can you reconcile? How does paid staff behave?user2338816 2017-06-21T04:52:04.533

1@user2338816 : I don't see the contradiction. You may love your job and enjoy it even more while not exhausted.gazzz0x2z 2017-06-21T08:29:54.780

@gazzz0x2z Agreed, but there's a difference between "job" and "work". It's not clear which the OP actually enjoys. If staff at OP's work is leaving at 6, it's different from staff regularly leaving at 7:30 and grumbling constantly. And if staff leaves at 6, but OP is pressured to stay longer...? Is that a desirable "job" if the same "work" can be done at XYZ, Corp.? OP might not find it so enjoyable in a paid position, and internship isn't permanent. The whole situation needs more clarity.user2338816 2017-06-21T10:03:40.473

You sound like a passionate and smart person. PM me and I might be able to refer you to proper paid internship next time. :)rvs 2017-07-01T18:15:34.887



How should I best approach this situation with my manager? As I said, I took the feedback very seriously and want to show that I am a dedicated part of the team.

As Mr Brancsyk said in his thoroughly accurate comments, you shouldn't "approach this situation" with your manager at all. You should quit and find something else. There are a number of red flags just in what you've said that identify this as a toxic and abusive workplace:

  1. You're an unpaid intern being asked to do serious coding for the company. That's basically free labour, which is not generally what unpaid interns do. (Paid interns, maybe, but not unpaid.)

  2. You're working 9:30 to 6:00 every day. I assume the extra half hour is due to a half hour "unpaid lunch" (but you're always unpaid, right?) Maybe this is different where you are, but where I'm from, the (Canadian) labour laws specificaly state that a half hour unpaid lunch break is part of an eight hour shift. So, they pay us 7.5h, they don't ask us to work 8.5h.

  3. This is the big one: Even working these hours to the letter, your boss actually accused you of leaving too early.

  4. When asked why you should work longer than 8.5h, he said "you should always be looking for work." In a proper company, "looking for work" is what you do when you've completed your assigned tasks. it really has nothing to do with the day-to-day hours you keep.

I wouldn't be surprised if there were more abuses, and if such things extended even to the paid positions. I don't know how you're making ends meet if you're working 8.5h a day and not getting paid a dime, but you deserve better.

Like Mr Branczyk said: quit now, find a new job after. You're not getting paid here, so this doesn't really hinder you the way quitting a paid position would.


Posted 2017-06-17T12:42:01.430

Reputation: 7 517

Where did his boss accuse him of leaving too early? Can't see that in the OP.bobo2000 2017-06-17T13:41:26.793

18First paragraph: ..."While my manager told me that the code I had been submitting was excellent and that my work was more than solid, they noted that I had been leaving too early from work and that this called my dedication into question."Steve-O 2017-06-17T13:44:06.400

Oh right, well that is a big No No for the OP. Saying that, management there seems to be really strict, I periodically let those I am managing leave earlier if they have completed their work. He has contradicted himself here: Now, our official start and ends times are from 9:30 to 6:00 so everyday for the past several weeks I have been working hard to finish my days tasks and then leaving at 6:00bobo2000 2017-06-17T13:48:11.473

73@bobo2000 That's not a contradiction. OP was accused of leaving early despite leaving at the "official" end of work time. Presumably that's a work culture where working late is expected and leaving on time is leaving early (which is not a nice culture to have).Dukeling 2017-06-17T17:47:53.887

Steve-O wrote that they had noted he was leaving too early for work, if he is leaving on time, he is not leaving too early for work. I am a bit confused which one it is. Either way, sounds like a shit place to work.bobo2000 2017-06-17T18:28:28.303

5@bobo2000 think of it like the people who say "if you're early, you're on time, and if you're on time, then you're late." Obviously working 8 hours a day unpaid (!) should be more than sufficient, but his manager is saying OP should work late every day to be working the proper amount.Kat 2017-06-17T19:52:56.640

45Fyi, in the USA, people are generally expected to work eight hours in addition to any unpaid lunch break. So that part isn't weird if he's American.Kat 2017-06-17T19:56:38.533

1Yeah, I get that, you know what the OP should do, he should show them his employment contract and tell them that he is contracted to work 40 hours. Companies who take their employees for granted like this, do not deserve to be in business. I very much doubt management would treat a subcontractor who is subcontracted for x number hours that same way, since they know that they will be changed more if they did.bobo2000 2017-06-17T20:07:13.573

@Kat's comment is also applicable to other countries. For instance, in Italy there is no 9-to-5 culture. Quite the opposite, we generally have plenty of time (usually 1.5 hours) between the two 4-hour time slots so people can go have lunch at home or at some restaurant.Andrea Lazzarotto 2017-06-18T16:10:11.850

6It might be worth bringing this up with the manager's manager. There is a slight chance that the manager, not the company, is the problem.chepner 2017-06-19T12:04:42.347

1Since this is a protected question and I don't think I'll bother waiting for the required rep to answer it... A less confrontative way of looking at this would be to realize that to be useful to the company, you need to have a healthy work-life balance, and that spending more than 8.5 hours at the office - and especially finding ways to do so - is a good way to ruin that. The only place this doesn't apply is Japan, not because it's not true but because the concept of work-life balance is nonexistent there.laszlok 2017-06-19T14:16:48.937

10Additionally, voluntarily looking to spend more than the contractually agreed number of hours is much more indicative of people who are rightfully worried about the quality of their work (and therefore seek to compensate with quantity) than of someone who's making good use of their time in the office and providing value to the company - quite apart from the (otherwise very valid) burnout considerations. Your manager probably hasn't realized this, and could in fact themselves be compensating with quantity for the poor quality of their own work.laszlok 2017-06-19T14:20:36.840

1@chepner I have worked in a large multinational company and a much smaller (albeit also multinational) company, and in both cases, the management style and managers' attitude were quite similar from one level to the next. When something is this broken, I don't think there's much of a chance "higher up" - taking your services elsewhere, and urgently, seems to me by far the most sensible bottom line. (Which is not to say you shouldn't attempt to educate your manager in the meantime.)laszlok 2017-06-19T14:55:47.063

@bobo2000 he's an unpaid intern. There's no contracted work hours.iheanyi 2017-06-19T22:16:56.720

@iheanyi well then it is slave labour, OP RUN AWAY and don't look back.bobo2000 2017-06-20T15:56:59.387

@bobo2000 not really. He can walk away any time, no strings attached, with only potential negative impact to professional prospects from similar employer's which makes it very different from slave labor.iheanyi 2017-06-20T19:21:01.617

I don't know why he hasn't done that already to be honest.bobo2000 2017-06-20T19:22:44.373

1You claim on the Canadian labour law isn't accurate. The Canada Labour Code (Federal) contains nothing about meal breaks or other rest periods. And in Onatrio, the payment for lunch break is not required. Maybe it's different in another province(e.g. BC) that lunch break must be paid.Alic 2017-06-20T19:53:08.793


Seriously, quit.

Your company has deeper problems than making interns work unpaid overtime; the company is run in an unethical way. If you are finishing the tasks that you have committed to during the day, yet they are down marking you because you are not working overtime, management is the problem, not you. As a Project manager I would never ever do that with those I am managing. Rather, their performance is based on how well they perform during their contracted hours.


Posted 2017-06-17T12:42:01.430

Reputation: 5 872

22Not to mention that it's an utterly stupid way. It gives all the wrong motivations, destroys initiative and morale and just tries to make you feel that the important part is sitting in the office as long as possible, rather than doing a great job. Inevitably, you'll eventually get people who do extraordinarily little effective hourly work, just to keep them in the office longer every day. I've often seen this with managers who pretty much had no idea what their reports were doing and how to judge their performance, so they "default" to a silly metric like "hours worked" or "LoC per hour".Luaan 2017-06-20T06:43:17.503

Yes, agreed. I think that good project management is knowing how to optimise the teams efficiency so that they produce high quality work during their working hours. The problem though is not that, in this case it's the whole mindset of trying to do everything at once as opposed to prioritising work properly so that a few high value things are done well and at a high quality. Many companies full into the trap of trying to do everything at once thinking it will generate them a lot of money, but instead makes them very unfocused in their approach.bobo2000 2017-06-20T19:10:16.430



Not even for a normally paid internship. For an unpaid internship, well, basically, you're just here to learn.

Now that you are a productive member of the team, get a true salary, or see elsewhere where your talents will be properly paid. Not now. Yesterday.


Posted 2017-06-17T12:42:01.430

Reputation: 5 360


In many situations in your life you will encounter "red flags". Takes a while to learn about all of them. You found one and asked a question here - congratulations.

The "red flag" here is the manager asking for "dedication to the company". Nobody should ever expect "dedication to the company" from you. People should work because (a) they are paid for it, (b) they enjoy doing the work, (c) in very rare cases, because they are working for a good cause.


Posted 2017-06-17T12:42:01.430

Reputation: 55 899

43The company should only expect dedication to the company, when you can expect them to show dedication to you. Anything else is unfair. why should the company demand you show dedication when they would lay you off at a moments noticed.psubsee2003 2017-06-17T22:23:14.833

9"Why should the company demand you show dedication when they would lay you off at a moments notice?" Because, if you don't show 'dedication' they will lay you off at a moment's notice! :pTasos Papastylianou 2017-06-19T08:06:15.750

4@TasosPapastylianou equivalently, if the company does not show you dedication, you will quit in a moment's notice. Or how about everyone starts behaving like grownups, and realize this is a simple business transaction.AviD 2017-06-20T12:11:48.960

1It is a business transaction, one where one of the parties has more leverage. I don't disagree this is unfair, but let's not pretend that people wouldn't reject unpaid internships on the spot had that leverage not existed in the first place. At the end of the day it's not a question of fairness, but of pragmatism and compromise.Tasos Papastylianou 2017-06-20T17:38:34.953


When I asked why this was a problem the response I received was that I should always be looking for more work.

Ha ha ha ha ha.

So after working from 7:30am to 7:30pm, what are you supposed to be doing? You should always be looking for more work.

Whoa, that's complete nonsense.

There are plenty of organizations that will happily hire a person for 5 hours a day, realizing that the part time staff has other priorities in life than to even provide an 8 hour day.

For this manager, how well you do something isn't enough. How efficient you are isn't enough. You're expected to dump a bunch of hours. So even if you get better, or more efficient, you'll never have a break (a relaxing day).

Why are you interning here? Are you part of some sort of college program that requires the internship? If so, figure out what the college program's requirements are, and how you can get trained by another organization that has more sensible staff expectations.

P.S., really try hard to get into a "paid internship". Paid internships are essentially just jobs, although if they have a minor problem then, out of compassion, they might not be quite as likely to just drop you a little bit before the internship's expiration date. If they like you, they may be more prone to simply hire you. Paid internships are harder to get, but the extra effort to find one is worth every penny (literally).


Posted 2017-06-17T12:42:01.430

Reputation: 2 292

7On another note: I think that when the first five answers to a question are all taking the same stance, and some have received quite a few highly rated votes, such advice is at least worth taking into consideration.TOOGAM 2017-06-17T21:17:57.633

13Yep. He works for an employer who abuses unpaid interns because "a worker we don't have to pay, how awesome is that?!" Unpaid interns are supposed to being gifted an education, not doing work for free.David Schwartz 2017-06-18T00:55:04.507

5If this is a position related to a college course, passing this information back to the college will give them the opportunity to warn future students against this company.trichoplax 2017-06-20T12:06:05.130

1@DavidSchwartz imo they are being gifted education in exchange for work (with obviously lower expectations than paid workers)Mafii 2017-06-22T07:11:53.897


I had similar situation, although I was a paid employee that just started to work in a company (in the Netherlands).

After few days I have noticed that everybody is extremely silent in the company, working hard, no talking, no chatting. It was kinda weird to me because I used to more relaxed kind of companies. Well, that was just the beginning.

I have noticed also that lots of people stays way longer (1h+) at work. I was doing the same for few days but at that moment I was kind of adapting to the team.

At some point I was like, "why the heck I do agree on this?". So I have started to stop working right on time (based on my contract).

After a month of working there I had an evaluation conversation to talk how's my progress in the company. And here it goes. A boss told me that they are happy to have me there, that quality of the code is good BUT they noticed that I quit too early in the meaning that I should stay longer, because everybody stays longer, so it's awkward if I leave earlier because others will start doing this too.

When I heard it, I was kinda still processing what he said, kind of a shock to me.

After all I went home and next day I quit the company. That was the best decision ever. My next company I have worked for is the best company ever, completely different, giving lots of freedom and fun to employees.

So, as previous people mentioned in comments, just quit. Don't ruin your life for someone's company. These kind of companies wants more and more and at some point there's a burnout..


Posted 2017-06-17T12:42:01.430

Reputation: 451

7What do you answer when you're asked why you quit this company during an interview?BlindSp0t 2017-06-18T12:55:40.133

9I told them that I was expecting different things in the company and it's not something I was looking for.

--- Funny fact #1: They did not ask me what is wrong, maybe they should fix something? Nothing at all, they just agreed on what I said.

--- Funny fact #2: The company had like 20 devs, the main boss was also a programmer, the head one. I've heard once that he was claiming that "in this house, there's only one real programmer" meaning that he's the only one with knowledge and we, the rest are nothing. Well, he said it's a joke but you know... Unprofessional at all. – undefinedman 2017-06-18T13:06:54.010

17"Don't ruin your life for someone's company." - Great quote. If you're working like this, you should be feeling well-compensated. Many business owners do this for their own business, and feel rewarded. But don't work like this without suitable compensation, or you'll just feel ripped off in the end. Doing this for free is absolutely absurd.TOOGAM 2017-06-18T17:23:05.590

4@TOOGAM "Don't ruin your life for someone's company.": Yes, not even if that someone is yourself!Volker Siegel 2017-06-20T17:02:34.447