As we’ve previously advised, make sure you are prepared for interns this summer! This summer there’s a new legal trend about interns. While wage and hour lawsuits are still hot, the new “it” trend seems to be laws that extend protection against discrimination and harassment for interns.  Recently, states and cities have been adding interns to the protected individuals under their human rights laws.

Retailers have long used interns, both to provide training opportunities for the interns and to supplement their workforce over the summer months. Whether an intern should be paid or unpaid (meeting the test of a “trainee”) is a determination that should be made using the federal six-factor test, and any applicable state tests. 

Regardless if the intern is paid or unpaid, certain policies and procedures need to be tailored to interns, and should differ from those given to regular employees. While recruitment efforts and offer letters need to be prepared just for interns, certain benefits and policies may need to be provided to all workers – even unpaid interns.

This year, New York City joined Washington, D.C. and the state of Oregon in passing a law protecting interns from sexual harassment, and other forms of employment discrimination. Now, several other states are seeking to expand those same protections to interns. In the past month, legislatures in California, New York, and Illinois have debated and voted on these bills.

The decision to give interns the same protections against discrimination and harassment as employees could affect how interns are treated under wage and hour laws. While the NYC law states that it applies to both paid and unpaid interns, it doesn’t make any determination as to whether those interns should be classified as employees, to receive minimum wage and potentially overtime.

The proposed New York state legislation addresses such concerns that some employers may have over the decision to extend anti-discrimination protections to interns. The current text of the bill, which has advanced to the third reading within the state Senate, provides that “nothing in this section shall create an employment relationship between an employer and an intern.”

A similar law is pending in Illinois, but it has been amended to only protect unpaid interns who meet a certain set of factors, which are similar to the federal six-factor test:

the person works for the employer at least 10 hours per week; the employer is not committed to hiring the person at the conclusion of his or her tenure; the employer and the person agree that the person is not entitled to wages for the work performed; and the work provides experience for the benefit of the person, does not displace regular employees, and is performed under the close supervision of staff.

The wording of the Illinois bill shows that legislators are aware that granting unpaid interns, who may not qualify as employees under the law, rights typically only afforded to employees could affect their employment status.

As more states continue to address whether interns, paid or unpaid, will be protected under anti-discrimination laws, stay tuned to the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog for any updates. If you’re having interns this summer in NYC, DC or Oregon, make sure policies and procedures are updated and are distributed to all employees and non-employee interns!