The death of an intern at a financial institution in London has raised concerns and questions about an experience which the Wage and Hour Division at the Bureau of Labor here in America states should be “for the benefit of the intern."
One English media report states that the sudden death of a Bank of America/Merrill Lynch summer intern, Moritz Erhardt, 21, who collapsed and died in the shower of his east London apartment last week constitutes "inhumane treatment,” according to a story about "slavery in the City" from the Independent.
Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan, who apparently has treated "City burnouts" trying to cope with excessive work hours for almost 20 years, is quoted in the article online as saying the grueling work hours and stress is "inhumane," as it has been suggested that Erhardt may have worked for 72 hours with little or no sleep.
She is a London-based clinician who sees a rise in those needing help, according to the story, and also reveals she is treating a number of patients signed off work suffering situations such as:
- nervous breakdowns,
- depression and anxiety
A previous story in the Examiner asked the question: Are unpaid internships, or unpaid 'returnships,' illegal?
The U.S. Wage and Hour Division's information page on the subject can be found here. Stated in that information:
"... if the interns are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work (for example, filing, performing other clerical work, or assisting customers), then the fact that they may be receiving some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits will not exclude them from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements because the employer benefits from the interns’ work."
Also mentioned is that the intern work under "... close supervision of existing staff."
Over at USAToday they report that Erhardt's death has caused a group that advises graduates to lash out at employers who allow young interns to work punishing hours. Said Felix Mitchell, co-founder and director of Instant Impact, an intern recruitment agency in London:
"Internships should not be an initiation process of low pay, tortuous hours and tasks designed to push the young person to their limits, even of health. They should not be exploited because they're the intern."
Dr Ramlakhan, speaking on the increase in those working excessively long hours, is quoted in the Independent:
“Not just at investment banks, but also law firms and technology companies too. More than 85 per cent of my patients are working excessively long hours – more than 12 a day – and more of them are in their early 20s. They wake up to check their emails, they work on holiday and by the time I see them they need help and advice. However, they find it incredibly difficult to put it into practice, especially interns and trainees."
“They get increasingly frustrated and I don’t think it’s sustainable. Moritz Erhardt’s death is an indication of that. They are worked so hard that it’s inhumane."