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Unpaid interns lack employee protections

At this time of year, many high school, college, and graduate students are looking to make plans for the summer. Many are looking for internships so that they can gain experience at an entry level to prepare them for the job market once they graduate. Internships can be incredibly helpful experience, offering mentorship and training in exchange for free or low cost labor. However, recently internships have been getting attention in the media for other reasons, particularly the legal status of interns and their rights as something other than an employee.

Unpaid interns are not considered employees, which means that they shouldn’t be given the same type of work as employees. However, there are many reports of unpaid interns doing the work of regular assistants and other paid employees, indicating that companies may simply be taking advantage of the free labor without offering mentorship or higher level training in exchange.

Another issue faced by unpaid interns that is less commonly known is that they are not protected by labor laws prohibiting workplace harassment and discrimination. This means that interns who experience sexual harassment or who suffer from discrimination based on their race may have a hard time seeking a remedy. One recent case involved an unpaid intern who was sexually harassed by a supervisor after being asked to go to that person’s hotel room to discuss work opportunities. Although the case was relatively clear, the relevant state statute did not cover the situation and therefore the intern was unable to seek compensation or to demand policy changes for the company.

Source: Huffington Post, “No Intern Pay? No Protection From Harassment,” Ashley Mosley, Feb. 14, 2014.

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