Paid or unpaid, interns are worthy of workplace protections
It’s been about 15 years now since President Clinton’s affair with a White House intern nearly forced him from office.
Much has of course changed in the U.S. since that time. But how much has the status of interns in the workplace really changed? Do they still tend to be as vulnerable to sexual harassment and improper discrimination as in the past?
In this post, we will discuss a recently passed bill in New York City that is intended provide more protections for interns who work here.
The New York City Council passed the bill last week. For a representative press account, click here.
Interns may or may not be paid. There is a lot of variation by industry and among employers.
But regardless of whether an intern is paid or not, as short-term workers who are seeking training they are vulnerable to exploitation. Unpaid interns, in particular, have been defined by prevailing interpretations of the law as outside the scope of the anti-discrimination protections of the federal Civil Rights Act.
Unpaid interns are outside the scope of those protections, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said, because their unpaid status keeps them from meeting the definition of what constitutes an employee.
The New York City Council’s action in passing these protections was occasioned at least in part by a specific case. Last fall, a federal judge had dismissed a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by an unpaid intern against her employer.
The judge’s reasoning for dismissing the suit was that the intern was not an employee.
With the passage of the New York City bill, however, unpaid interns now have new protections in place. These include protections against:
• Sexual harassment
• Racial discrimination
They also include protections against discrimination in the workplace based on religion or on sexual orientation.
For more information about our practice, please visit our page on sexual harassment.