Over the past century, labor laws have evolved to protect many classes of individuals — including men, women and children. US labor laws protections regulate workplace conditions including: harassment and discrimination in the workplace, workers’ health, and minimum pay. However, in recent years, the social progress of employment protections have come under question regarding a specific group of people….interns. In late March 2014, interns in New York City were granted the rights and protections that they argue they so rightfully deserve.
A bill, passed by the New York City Council came in response to a federal judge’s decision in October 2013 to dismiss an unpaid intern’s sexual harassment claim against her boss. The city joins Oregon and Washington D.C. on the list of places with legislation that specifically protects unpaid workers against sexual harassment.
Currently, interns are not protected against sexual harassment and workplace discrimination under federal law. Protection under the Civil Rights Act hinges on a worker being legally defined as an employee, a status that requires that a worker be paid, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Yet, in light of the current economic climate and the move toward experiential learning in schools, more students and individuals than ever are doing internships, externships, supervised placements in practice settings. But an experience of discrimination or harassment could irrevocably damage a student’s experience in an internship, leading to less desirable assignments, a work environment troubled with tension, poor performance resulting from emotional distress, and, perhaps, the failure to obtain a much-needed recommendation for future employment.
Though the action of the City Council is just a small step, it is making a strong statement that the sexual abuse, racial discrimination, and workplace harassment against New York City’s interns is inexcusable. If you or a loved one have been a victim of sexual harassment or discrimination as an intern, contact an experienced employment attorney. A skilled employment attorney will afford you the representation you deserve and ensure your legal rights are protected.