A New York district judge ruled that unpaid interns are not protected from sexual harassment by the New York Human Rights Law because they are not ‘real’ employees. To be a real employee, you must be “hired,” put on the payroll and be paid by the company. Unpaid interns may do the work, but are never put on the payroll. As such they enjoy no rights or protections afforded to other employees. Independent contractors find themselves in the same boat. They too are unprotected.
No state, except Oregon, extend these protections to unpaid interns. Watch for this to change.
Both the state and federal government are clamping down on misclassifications of independent contractors claiming these individuals in many cases are employees and should be placed on the payroll, paid and given all the rights of employees. The states and federal government have already begun doing the same for interns, claiming again they should be paid.
Regardless of how this eventually sorts out, employers should extend protections to their interns. No intern, frankly no one should be subject to harassment of any kind. It makes good business sense and it is the right thing to do.
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