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Interns Are Now Protected Against Sexual Harassment in NYC

Does this latest development to protect unpaid interns in New York point to a greater trend?

(Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Interns of New York City, rejoice. You are now protected against sexual harassment and discrimination based on race, religion and sexual orientation in the workplace.

Plus, The New York Times will now pay you minimum wage, New York University is making a greater effort to protect you and Columbia University has told companies it expects its interns to be paid.

Sexual harassment protection, the latest of these developments, comes thanks to a bill passed Wednesday by the New York City Council. The bill was drafted in response to a federal judge’s decision last October to dismiss an unpaid intern’s sexual harassment claim against her boss.

The city joins Oregon and Washington D.C. on the list of places with legislation that specifically protects unpaid workers against sexual harassment. In January, California Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner introduced legislation to protect unpaid interns in the Golden State; that bill is still in committee.

As we have reported, interns aren’t protected against sexual harassment and workplace discrimination under federal law. Protection under the Civil Rights Act hinges on a worker being legally defined as an employee — a status that requires that a worker be paid, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But the New York City bill essentially rejects pay as a determinant of employment. It defines an intern as:

…an individual who performs work for an employer on a temporary basis whose work: (a) provides training or supplements training given in an educational environment such that the employability of the individual performing the work may be enhanced; (b) provides experience for the benefit of the individual performing the work; and (c) is performed under the close supervision of existing staff. The term shall include such individuals without regard to whether the employer pays them a salary or wage.

This new bill joins what seems to be a New York trend toward greater protection for unpaid interns. After an editorial decrying unpaid internships, the New York Times announced Tuesday that it will pay academic interns minimum wage. New York University has implemented a system that puts potential employers through a more stringent approval process before posting internships for students. And Columbia University has halted undergraduate registration credits for internships, a move that Newsweek called an “attempt to pressure employers to pay interns.”

Have you completed an internship for academic credit? Tell us about your experience.

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