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A Bill to Protect Unpaid Interns from Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a California lawmaker, introduced a bill that will protect the unpaid interns from workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. According to Skinner, this bill will give protection to interns, specifically young people, on their workplace. The fairness and ethics of the unpaid internships became the subject of debate among academics, lawmakers, and the business industry. This has been going on for a year and Skinner has prompted to present a bill to protect these people from discrimination.

The supporters of unpaid internship say that these jobs offer a way for new graduates and students to pick up valuable skills. The Assembly Bill 1443 will ban the workplace sexual harassment along with the protection of unpaid interns on discrimination, specifically the gender-based discrimination.

A Bill to Protect Unpaid Interns from Sexual Harassment in the WorkplaceThe Federal or the State Law does not explicitly protect the interns from workplace sexual harassment. In 2013, the New York Federal District Court ruled that Title VII or the 1964 Civil Rights Act (employee protection from discrimination and sexual harassment) does not apply to the unpaid interns, as this does not refer to an intern as an “employee.” A New York case involving a student from Syracuse University claims that she was kissed, harassed, and groped by a supervisor at the media company internship but then retaliated against for rebuffing the supervisor’s sexual advances.

The Assemblywoman also added that the recession has prompted young people to work under these positions in order to create contacts and resumes for the competitive job market. The “employers owe them a safe and fair workplace,” says Skinner. The latest proposed regulation will explicitly ban sexual harassment among California unpaid interns and also the general workplace civil rights.

In a 2008 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 50 percent of the graduating students support internships, which is triple the percentage presented in 1992 by the Northwestern University study. Moreover, females are more likely to become part of the unpaid internships than males, which is 77 percent and 23 percent, respectively. This is according to the 2012 survey of the college students through the Intern Bridge, which is a specialized firm in college recruitment.

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act only protects employees from sexual harassment, but this does not involve the unpaid intern. The New York University is now creating a huge effort to protect interns. The Columbia University even told companies that they expect their interns will be paid.

This new bill from Skinner seems to offer New York towards greater protection for unpaid interns. Following an editorial complaints on unpaid internships, the New York Times has announced last Tuesday that they will pay their academic interns minimum wage. The New York University has implemented a system that places the potential companies through a more stringent approval process prior to posting internships for students. Furthermore, Columbia University stopped the undergraduate registration credits for internships, a move that is known by Newsweek as an attempt to pressure the employers to pay the interns.

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