Unpaid Interns Not Protected Against Sexual Harassment Claims EEOC

It seems like there’s another downside to being an unpaid intern apart from the fact that you aren’t paid; you’re not protected against sexual harassment either.  All collegiettes who have had an unpaid internship – a necessity to advance in many career fields – will know that you miss out on key pay and employment benefits, but it seems that we also miss out on protection from sexual harassment, according to The Huffington Post .  

David Yamada, a law professor and intern labor rights advocate, claims that interns can find themselves in “legal limbo” when it comes to civil rights. The O’Connor decision, the leading legal case in this area, states that since interns do not receive paycheck they are not employees, and so are not covered by the Civil Rights Act and so, are not protected.

It is not only court rulings that suggest that unpaid interns are not covered; federal policies are also to blame. The laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) do not cover interns unless they receive “significant remuneration”, says EEOC spokesman Joseph Olivares.

Olivares said to ProPublica: “At least with respect to the federal law that we enforce, an unpaid intern would not be legally protected by our laws prohibiting sexual harassment”.

However, there are small steps being made to change this situation since in June, Oregon passed a law protecting interns from sexual harassment whether or not they are paid. Charlie Burr, spokesperson for the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, says that Oregon is the first state to pass such laws.

Although studies are rare, the Chicago Tribune reported that a 1994 study discovered 49% of interns experienced at least "one form of sexual harassment." It seems as though the practice of sexual harassment certainly was present in 1994, and the fact that Oregon passed this law would suggest that this practice is still present today.

PolicyMic believes that even though Oregon has taken the first step in this battle towards intern protection, that federal legislation is still a long way off.

However, if you are, or have been, sexually harassed during your internship you should not be afraid to report this to your program manager or another senior member of staff who you feel comfortable speaking to. What do you think of the current state of the law? Weigh in below!