Interns are People Too…but only in California.

HappyemployeesInterns and volunteer workers took one step closer to becoming fully fledged human beings in California last week with the signing of a bill by Governor Jerry Brown. The bill was authored and introduced by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and will afford protections against sexual harassment in the workplace for unpaid interns and volunteer workers. The bill expands Title VII protections to those workers who had previously been overlooked and often left in limbo and at the mercy of sexually inappropriate bosses and co-workers.

Especially telling in light of recent articles regarding former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and his creepy harassment of pretty much any female he came into contact with, including an elderly volunteer at City Hall, this bill was also prompted by a recent case in New York.

A federal district court in New York last year held that Title VII protections do not apply to unpaid interns and volunteers because they are technically not employees as required by the law. That case involved a student from the University of Syracuse who was working as an unpaid intern at a media firm and who was groped, sexually harassed and kissed against her will by a supervisor. He then retaliated against her when she refused his advances.

According to Assemblymember Skinner “Interns and volunteers deserve a safe, fair workplace and the same legal protections against discrimination and harassment as everyone else.”

Ya think?

Considering that volunteers are taking these positions either because of a sense of wanting to give back, or to gain valuable experience in order to help them in their future careers, and that unpaid interns are working for free, and often doing the same jobs as paid personnel, it seems inexcusable that they should be victims of harassment without recourse.

And yet, California becomes one of only three states that afford them any type of protection. We join the District of Columbia, Oregon and New York in passing these laws.

Our bill also protects workers against discrimination by rejecting the premise that they need to be paid in order to be classified as employees. In a 2008 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employees, half of all graduating students had held internships while in college. And most of the students engaging in unpaid internships are women, according to a 2012 survey of college students by the consulting firm Intern Bridge.

Now that interns and volunteers are protected from discrimination and harassment like other humans, maybe we can work on laws allowing them to own property and vote (kidding…they can already do that in most states).

If you are an unpaid intern or volunteer, or even if you’re a paid employee in California and you have been sexually harassed at work contact Stephen Danz & Associates at (877) 789-9707 or use the Contact Form on our website to schedule a free consultation. Stephen has more than 30 years of experience defending California workers against harassment and discrimination.