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Your Rights
Government Internships/Fellowships

Government internships are a great way to gain valuable work experience. For the most part, government internships are like any other typical internship. However, there are a few key differences. To learn more about government intern qualifications, job expectations, and more, see the questions below.

  1. I am still a student, but I want to apply for a government fellowship. May I apply for a government fellowship while I am still in school?
  2. What is the difference between federal, state, and local government internships or fellowships?
  3. I am an intern for the federal government and I want to work for the federal government full-time. Am I entitled to a job once my internship is over?
  4. As a government intern, do I have the same workplace protections as government employees?
  5. My employer is asking me to work longer hours than agreed in my contract, is that allowed?
  6. If I can’t get paid, can I receive a stipend?
  7. What are some ways I can ask for benefits at my internship?

1. I am still a student, but I want to apply for a government fellowship. May I apply for a government fellowship while I am still in school?

Typically, government fellowships are geared towards people who have advanced degrees or comparable work experience. If you are a current graduate student who has an anticipated graduation date that precedes the expected start date for the fellowship, you may qualify for a government fellowship. However, you will need to confirm the specific qualifications required for any fellowship on the job listing. To learn more about government internship and fellowship opportunities for current students and recent graduates, click here.

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2. What is the difference between federal, state, and local government internships or fellowships?

The work you do for the federal government must comply with the United States Constitution and federal laws. State government work must comply with federal and state laws, and local government work must comply with federal, state, and local laws. 

Additionally, while it is not necessary to be based in Washington D.C. to participate in a federal internship, it is encouraged, as there are many opportunities based in D.C. For state government internships, living in or around the state capital is typically required. Smaller, local governments may also seek candidates who reside in the local area. 

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3. I am an intern for the federal government and I want to work for the federal government full-time. Am I entitled to a job once my internship is over?

Not necessarily. The Pathways Program provides students and recent graduates with the possibility of full-time employment with the federal government. While this program makes it easier for students and recent graduates to enter the federal workforce, it does not guarantee permanent employment for every intern. Depending on the program you are part of, you will need to meet certain requirements to be eligible for full-time employment. Generally, to be eligible for conversion, an intern must complete 640 hours of service, or 320 hours if combined job performance and academic record are excellent. If all program requirements are met, the intern may be converted to a full-time employee at any agency. However, if you are part of the Recent Graduates Program, you may only be converted to a full-time employee at the agency in which you were appointed. 

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4. As a government intern, do I have the same workplace protections as government employees?

Prior to 2015, there was no legislation protecting unpaid government interns from workplace harassment or discrimination. However, the Federal Intern Protection Act, sought to address these issues. While the bill was not passed by Congress, the introduction of the bill shows that legislators have contemplated workplace protections for government interns. 

If you believe that you are being exploited, harassed, or discriminated against, you should consider contacting an employment lawyer in your state.

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5. My employer is asking me to work longer hours than agreed in my contract, is that allowed?

Typically yes, but it depends. Government internships are not regulated by the DOL or the FLSA. As a government intern, you may technically be classified as a “volunteer,” so the government agency you work for is not required to pay you.

Because the law is still developing around this issue, whether you may work overtime varies by employer. To know more about whether your employer may ask you to work more hours than contracted for, look at your company policy or ask your employer.

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6. If I can’t get paid, can I receive a stipend?

Yes. However, the law is still developing in this area. So, it is up to your employer to decide whether you will receive a stipend or not. 

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7. What are some ways I can ask for benefits at my internship?

You are your own best advocate, so you should stand up for yourself and request the benefits that you need. First, know what rights you are guaranteed. Next, know what benefits you want and be upfront in your interview. Your employer is most likely willing to negotiate on certain benefits, so be honest with what you want and expect from them. 

While larger benefits like 401(k)s and health insurance are most likely not negotiable, there are many types of small benefits your employer will most likely be willing to provide to you, sometimes without even being requested. For example, many internships offer compensation for commute fees, or they may offer you a monthly public transit pass. If you live out of state, your company may be willing to negotiate stipends to help pay for living expenses. Additionally, many companies offer additional training and work placement opportunities.

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