In our April Employer Express, we reported on a unanimous vote by the New York City Council to pass a bill to amend the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL") to bring interns within the ambit of the law. On April 15, 2014, Mayor di Blasio put pen to paper and signed the bill into law.

With the passage of bill Int. No. 173-A, interns—both paid and unpaid—now have the same rights and protections under the NYCHRL as were previously granted only to employees. These include, among other things, the rights:

  1. to be free from discrimination and harassment on any protected trait;  
  2. to seek a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs;  
  3. to be free from retaliation for filing a charge or otherwise protesting unlawful activity under the Law;  
  4. to file a charge of discrimination or retaliation with the New York City Commission on Human Rights; and  
  5. to recover damages for being the target of unlawful activity.

For purposes of the law, “intern” is narrowly defined to include only those individuals who “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.” This definition is a reduced version of the test used by the New York State Department of Labor to determine if an intern is exempt from the requirements of the Minimum Wage Act and Orders.

With the passage of the law, New York City joins Washington, D.C. and Oregon as jurisdictions which extend civil rights protections to unpaid workers. A similar bill is currently pending before the state legislature, which would amend the New York State Human Rights Law to extend equal employment protections to interns.

The amendment takes effect on June 14, 2014, just in time for summer internship season. Because interns are now just as free as employees to file discrimination and harassment claims against the companies for which they work, New York City employers should ensure that their anti-harassment and equal opportunity policies are up-to-date and distributed to interns. Appropriate management and supervisory personnel should also be trained on their new obligations under the NYCHRL.