Harassed intern not covered by human rights law

When an employer or another co-worker acts inappropriately in the workplace, a worker can file workplace discrimination charges against the company and the individuals at fault. Companies have had laws and regulations to follow regarding sexual harassment for years in regard to what is and is not appropriate behavior in the workplace. However, what about unpaid workers, such as volunteers and interns? A recent sexual harassment case involving a young unpaid intern and her employer has uncovered a loophole in the city’s human rights law that some are now working to close.

A 26-year-old intern sued her former employer citing claims her boss sexually harassed her, then declined to extend an employment offer in retaliation because the women rebuffed his advances. The woman sued under the New York City Human Rights Law. The suit was filed in January.

A judge dismissed the sexual harassment charge, stating in his dismissal that an unpaid intern is not an employee and therefore does not fall under the protection of the NYCHRL. The judge did however allow the portion of the suit dealing with retaliation to go forward.

Some believe this is a loophole in the law that needs to be addressed. One NYC councilwoman has announced her plans to introduce legislation that will include protections against sexual harassment for unpaid interns. One member of the 2005 committee that last overhauled the law also agrees the law should be changed to include unpaid interns since everyone in a workplace should be protected from unsolicited advances from employers and fellow employees.

Anyone who feels they are being treated unfairly should speak to a legal professional who is experienced in handling these types of matters. Learning what is and is not appropriate in a workplace and discovering all available options to handle such matters can help a person decide how to best address an uncomfortable situation in the workplace.

NY Daily News, “Unpaid interns cannot sue for sexual harassment: judge” Daniel Beekman, Oct. 10, 2013

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