Unpaid internships and the threat of sexual harassment

Posted in Sexual Harassment on May 16, 2014

Now that the school year is coming to an end, many high school and college students will be pursuing summer internships. Even if the internships are unpaid, they can still provide valuable learning opportunities and useful real-life experience.

But interns beware: Some of you may get some unwanted real-life experience as a victim of sexual harassment. Unfortunately, the vast majority of states have no laws protecting unpaid interns from sexual harassment, but that doesn’t mean you are powerless to do anything about it. Today, we’ll talk about how to deal with sexual harassment during an unpaid internship.

First of all, if you are a minor, any adult who sexually harasses you could potentially face criminal charges – especially if inappropriate or unwanted touching was involved. As such, you may wish to report the incident(s) to police after telling your parents or other trusted adults.

For interns age 18 or older, sexual harassment might not result in criminal charges, but it is still inappropriate and is often illegal. When you start your internship, make a point of reading the company’s policy on sexual harassment, paying special attention to where you can report such behavior. In many cases, the Human Resources department is responsible for fielding these types of complaints.

Even if the state you’re in doesn’t specifically protect unpaid interns from sexual harassment, chances are good that Human Resources reps and other company officials will intervene on your behalf to stop the behavior. But they cannot do so unless you speak up.

That brings us to our final piece of advice: speak up. Sexual harassment is never ok, and one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and others is to report perpetrators to the company. If you aren’t sure if a certain behavior counts as sexual harassment, it is better to ask a trusted adult rather than keeping it to yourself. If it feels wrong, it probably is.

Summer internships can be a great way to learn about the working world. And although sexual harassment is a real threat, knowing your rights and resources is empowering.

Source: AOL Jobs, “What Every Teen (And Parent) Needs To Know About Sexual Harassment At Work,” Donna Ballman, May 13, 2014