Earlier this year we reported on a bill passed by the New York City Council that expanded the NYC Human Rights Laws to protect interns from discrimination and harassment. Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill extending similar protections to unpaid interns under New York State law.
On July 22, 2014, Governor Cuomo signed an amendment to the New York State Human Rights Law, which now protects unpaid interns from discrimination in hiring, discharge, and terms and conditions of employment on the basis of age, race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, or military status. In addition, the law prohibits employers from subjecting unpaid interns to discriminatory harassment and sexual harassment, both in the form of quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment.
As defined by law, the increased protections extend only to unpaid interns who can prove that they, among other things, do “not displace regular employees” and perform work “under the close supervision of existing staff.”
The amendment went into effect immediately upon enactment.
With the new law, New York State joins New York City, Washington, D.C., and Oregon in expanding their civil rights laws to protect unpaid interns from discrimination and harassment at work. Otherwise, the employment protections of Title VII and state-law equivalents extend only to “employees,” at the exclusion of unpaid interns (and also independent contractors). Managers, supervisors, and other employees who have contact with interns should receive regular training on appropriate interactions with this newly protected class.