A new law could be coming to California that will help prevent unpaid interns from being subjected to certain workplace issues. It was announced that legislation would be introduced in January addressing sexual harassment and discrimination of interns in the workplace. Legal protections for interns are currently unclear on both a federal and state level since these positions are not explicitly included in the law.
Many college students and those joining the workforce for the first time pursue unpaid internships in order to gain experience in their chosen field. Often, this may lead to a paid position with the company or organization. Interns may face pressure to go along with some things they may not be comfortable with so that they don’t endanger their chances for a reference or to be hired.
Recently, Oregon passed a law providing these rights to unpaid interns, but it is the only state to have done so. The vast majority (77 percent) of unpaid interns are women, according to 2008 data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. It is important to be aware that any type of behavior in the workplace, whether sexually aggressive or some other form of harassment or discrimination, needs to be taken seriously. Though unpaid interns do not have the same explicit protections under the law as paid employees, there are avenues to report these issues.
For paid interns or traditional employees, sexual harassment claims should likewise be taken seriously. Consulting an attorney about any issues that make you feel uncomfortable in the workplace can help to clarify the possible options for pursuing the claim.
The Huffington Post, “California law would finally protect unpaid interns from harassment and discrimination” Lydia O’Connor, Dec. 10, 2013