Unpaid interns soon will have the same protections as employees under the anti-discrimination provisions of New York City’s Human Rights law. Due to go into effect on or about June 14, 2014, the amendment to the NYCHRL bars discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against interns because of any characteristic protected by the law. This includes actual or perceived age, race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation, alienage or citizenship status or status as a victim of domestic violence, sex offenses or stalking.
The amendment followed a October 2013 federal court decision that held a sexual harassment litigant’s status as an unpaid intern meant her claims were not covered under the NYCHRL. New York’s City Council acted quickly to draft legislation to close a “loophole” in the law. The bill (No. 0173- A – Local Law 9) passed unanimously through the City Council on March 26, 2014 and Mayor Bill de Blasio signed it into law on April 15.
The law 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 law includes interns “without regard to whether the employer pays them a salary or wage.”
This definition tracks several of the factors used to determine whether interns at “for-profit” private sector employers must be paid minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York State Minimum Wage Act and Wage Orders. Unpaid interns who satisfy the criteria of these laws may be exempted from their wage and hour requirements, but most certainly will fall within the reach of the NYCHRL.
Employers with interns in New York City should review their employment policies, practices, and training programs to make sure they reflect the new law’s protection for interns.