Moritz Erhardt, a 21-year-old intern at The Bank of America Merrill Lynch(BAML), was found dead on Thursday near the end of his seven-week paid internship.
BAML is one of many banks renowned for encouraging young students to work late nights and to put in long hours. A website, wallstreetoasis.com, supports this claim. Users said Erhardt often worked long hours, and was “one of the best interns at BAML”.
Another poster on the website stated that Erhardt had been going home at 6AM for the three days prior to his death.
“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the news of Moritz Erhardt's death. He was popular among his peers and was a highly diligent intern at our company with a promising future,” BAML said in a statement.
In 2011, claims of ‘the Magic Roundabouts’ at investment banks (not specifically BAML) surfaced, which referred to interns taking a taxi to their home at 7AM. The taxi would wait for them to shower and change, then take them back to the office. One hundred hour weeks were common.
A source from BAML said staff are given ‘mentors’ and ‘buddies’ to monitor them.
The Claredale complex where Erhardt was staying issued a statement explaining there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death.
This comes about soon after Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook’s non-profit start up Lean In was met with criticism over its job ad by Jessica Bennett, Editor-At-Large, asking for an unpaid intern.
In the wake of this, Rachel Thomas, president of Lean In, released a statement stating the organisation’s position as a non-profit, and saying “As a start-up, we haven’t had a formal internship program. Moving forward we plan to, and it will be paid,” The Huffington Post reported.
The treatment of interns, particularly unpaid interns, has been called into question over the last few months. Legally, unpaid internships in Australia must demonstrate that no ‘employment relationship’ has been formed. The Fair Work Ombudsman’s website outlines a number of steps to assess if an employment relationship has been reached:
Purpose of arrangement – Was the unpaid work designed to provide experience to the individual, or was it to assist the organisation’s outputs and productivity?
Length of time – The longer a placement, the more likely it is an employment relationship.
The person’s obligations – Although they can be productive, if there is no requirement or expectation of productivity, they are less likely to be an employee.
Who benefits – A genuine work placement/internship should see the individual benefiting the most. If the organisation is gaining significant benefit, this may mean an employment relationship has been formed.
Entry to the placement – If the individual entered the position through university or a vocational training organisation program, it is less likely they are an employee.
Death from over-work is not uncommon, and has become disturbingly common in some e-commerce spaces.
Erhardt’s death is a reminder that employers must acknowledge the needs and emotions of their employees, and do what they can to prevent burnout.