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Unpaid interns mostly lack employee rights

In cities like Chaska, Minnesota, and elsewhere, it’s not uncommon for people to suggest applying for an internship as a way to gain valuable work experience and possible employment. After all, unpaid interns often contribute meaningfully to the business while proving that they are committed to their position. Unfortunately, though, some unpaid interns endure harassment and/or discrimination in the workplace without the legal protections necessary to speak out.

Some may be surprised to learn that Oregon just recently approved legislation granting some employee rights to paid and unpaid interns. Oregon is the first state to extend employment law policies to recognize interns, protecting them from illegal workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. Interns in Washington D.C. are also legally protected against sexual harassment now that the Capital’s Human Rights Act has been amended. Though, the federal government has yet to institute similar changes to its own employment laws.

Unless an intern receives a paycheck or other form of significant remuneration, he or she is not acknowledged under current policies outlined by the Civil Rights Act or U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That means that unpaid interns may have little to no legal recourse in the event they face sexual harassment and/or discrimination in the workplace. And given that the EEOC keeps no record of complaints filed by interns, it’s difficult to guess just how prevalent such offenses may be.

Unpaid interns may be especially vulnerable to harassment and retaliation in the workplace because they are denied so many employee rights. If an intern fears their rights or wellbeing have been infringed upon in any way, they can seek legal counsel to determine what options they may have.

Source: mintpressnews.com, “How Unpaid Interns Aren’t Protected Against Sexual Harassment,” Blair Hickman, Christie Thompson, August 10, 2013

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