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Is that Even Legal?

‘JT & Dale Talk Jobs’ is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country and can be found at JTandDale.com. Dear J.T. and Dale: I have been unemployed for the past year. Now, my husband is also unemployed. Needless to say, we're looking as hard as we can in our respective fields and you know how brutal it is out there. Our families are concerned and try to give us suggestions when they find them. My mother recently mentioned she heard of companies allowing employees to work without pay for a trial period, say four weeks, so they can still draw unemployment. She suggested I try it. I mulled the idea over, but I find it neither prudent nor ethical. Is that even legal? — Cheryl J.T.: The concept of working while collecting unemployment is very suspect. There are interns who work for free, but they at least get school credit. Further, what happens if the company doesn't decide to hire you? Then, you have no work experience to put on a resume. Dale: Once again, we turned for advice to our favorite employment law attorney, Scott Gordon of the Rodey Law Firm in Albuquerque, N.M. He reminded us that unemployment compensation programs are mostly a matter of state law before explaining, "The mother's idea of 'auditing' a job for no pay while collecting unemployment compensation benefits might just work — if her daughter jumps through the right hoops. Her state's law may grant approval if the employer can get the job approved as training." That said, Scott went on to tell us, "The work-without-pay scenario has other problems if it does not meet the qualifications of an approved training program. For example, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires an employer to pay an employee a minimum wage. 'Employ' means 'to suffer or permit to work,' a definition that always tickled me." J.T.: Instead of working without pay, Cheryl, I urge you and your spouse to approach EVERY — I mean EVERY — good company in your area and ask them what it takes to get hired there. Far too many job seekers rely solely on a reactive job search; that is, simply applying to job postings. Time spent proactively researching companies would be more beneficial than taking a job that has an uncertain and shady future. jt-dale-logoJeanine "J.T." Tanner O'Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm, JTODonnell.com, and of the blog, CAREEREALISM.com. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. Please visit them at JTandDale.com, where you can send questions via e-mail, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate, Inc. Photo credit: Shutterstock