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Workplace discrimination lawsuits for unpaid interns questioned

As a worker in California, it's important to understand the rights you have. You may not be happy to hear that unpaid interns are sometimes not given the same rights as traditional workers, and so they can be at the center of workplace discrimination problems with few options. With few protections, these workers are open to exploitation and discrimination.

According to the story from Feb. 26, unpaid interns are not protected in the same way paid employees are. In January, the California State Assembly member Nancy Skinner introduce a new bill that would change that. She claims that it would give unpaid interns the same rights and protections against discrimination and harassment as regular paid employees.

This bill is allegedly a response to an incident in New York. In that case, a judge in New York determined that a woman couldn't sue for sexual harassment, because she was only an unpaid intern, not an employee at the company. The problem with this is that the recession has opened more and more unpaid intern positions that are necessary for students to build a resume and to gain contacts, but the protections just weren't there.

Unpaid internships have been under fire before, too. According to the news, in the summer of 2013, a number of unpaid interns sued high-profile companies because they believed they suffered minimum wage violations. They had not been trained in an educational environment, which is required for unpaid workers, and they had been doing the same jobs as others with no pay.

Across the nation, around 48 percent of internships taken by seniors in 2013 were unpaid, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. There is no system to regulate these unpaid internships, and it's been argued that some employers use it as a way to get free work for menial tasks. Fortunately, with help from the government in California, it could be possible for unpaid interns to at least have the right support from the system and the same legal rights as their paid counterparts.

Source: The Daily Californian, "Few protections, profits for unpaid interns even with first hints of reform" Jessie Lau, Feb. 26, 2014

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