Under current federal law, worker protections against sexual harassment contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only apply to employees and not unpaid interns. The same is true when it comes to protections against age and gender discrimination in the workplace. However, proposed legislation would aim to extend those same protections to workers in California and around the country who are classified as unpaid interns. A bill has already passed the House that would extend such protection to federal workers.
It is thought to be unlikely that a bill would be passed offering equal protection to workers in the private sector. Republicans currently hold majorities in Congress, and they tend to be hesitant about adding additional regulations on businesses. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not comment on the bills while the Society for Human Resource Management said that it was still reviewing the text.
Even if federal legislation is not passed, some states and municipalities have closed the loophole on their own. Connecticut and Oregon are among states that have passed laws aimed at resolving the issue while the District of Columbia and New York City have done the same. One policy analyst for the group Young Invincibles said that such protection was important for younger workers. This is because they are the ones most likely to use an internship as the first step toward finding paid work.
Those who face sexual harassment on the job may wish to have an employment law attorney review the facts in the case and work to help resolve the issue in a favorable manner for the employee. In some cases, it might be appropriate to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the applicable state agency.