States considering sexual harassment laws protecting unpaid interns

Posted in Sexual Harassment on November 1, 2013

A couple weeks ago, we wrote about a sexual harassment case from New York that has been making headlines around the country. The reason for the far-reaching attention is that the case highlights an almost-nationwide loophole in sexual harassment laws, including those here in California.

In that case, a young woman filed a sexual harassment suit against a company where she participated in an unpaid internship. The judge in the case ruled that unpaid interns are not technically employees, and therefore are not protected by workplace sexual harassment laws.

As we wrote in our last post on the subject, Oregon is the only state with laws extending sexual harassment protection to unpaid interns; and the Oregon law is only a few months old.

In response to the injustice displayed in this case, a state legislator in New York recently introduced a bill that seeks to give unpaid interns specific sexual harassment protections. It is reportedly modeled after Oregon’s law.

According to a recent news report, the legislation is multifaceted. It would prohibit companies and their employees from:

  • Requesting sexual favors from interns
  • Engaging in “unwelcome sexual advances”
  • Subjecting interns to “other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”
  • Taking any retaliatory action against an intern because he or she filed a sexual harassment complaint

In light of how much attention this story has received, it wouldn’t be surprising for lawmakers in other states to propose similar legislation. Hopefully, the California legislature will live up to its reputation for passing progressive employee-rights laws and be among the first states to protect unpaid interns from sexual harassment.

Source: Buffalo News, “New York bill aims to protect interns against sexual harassment,” Tom Precious, Oct. 14, 2013