What happens when the line between learning and labor becomes blurred? In the pursuit of experience and knowledge, many students find themselves contributing much more than just their time and attention—they could also be giving their labor for free.
A recent legal case involving aspiring hair stylists in Michigan is a good example of what happens when people challenge whether certain experiences are educational or exploitative.
Unpaid work under scrutiny
In a recent case in Michigan, a judge approved a settlement of $2.8 million in a dispute over unpaid work by students at the Douglas J Aveda Institute. The lawsuit accused the institute of federal labor law violations, asserting that the students were performing work such as cleaning and stocking shelves without pay.
While the institute claimed the work was educational, the courts determined it was menial labor for which the school should have paid students.
A mirror for many?
This case may resonate with interns, apprentices and other students across the state who may be:
- Performing tasks unrelated to their educational goals
- Feeling pressured to accept unpaid work for the promise of experience
- Struggling to manage educational expenses alongside unpaid internships or apprenticeships
Too often, companies or employers aim to make a person feel “lucky” to perform tasks in exchange for intangible benefits rather than pay. However, this settlement highlights the fact that exploitative labor practices exist and can be incredibly costly for individuals. Calling out bad actors and unfair practices is crucial in resolving these serious issues.
Recognizing the value in education and labor
Education, in both academic and professional settings, is invaluable. However, it should not come at the cost of fair compensation for work performed. Unfortunately, too many businesses take advantage of people, especially those who are often young, inexperienced or intimidated.
Under these circumstances, speaking up and advocating for workers’ rights is crucial in ensuring employers comply with fair wage and hour laws.