An unpaid intern not only does not earn money at the workplace, he or she has no protection under the state's sexual harassment laws. Technically, since interns do not receive a paycheck or other remuneration such as pension and life insurance, they do not count as company employees and are not entitled to employee protections. This means an intern cannot bring a sexual harassment claim against an employer.
In one recent case, a young female intern and other co-workers were invited to a working lunch by their supervisor and bureau chief. The intern claims she was asked to stay after the meal to discuss her work performance and was then asked to drop off some materials at the boss's hotel room.
In the hotel room, the supervisor removed his jacket, began to touch her inappropriately, and tried to kiss her. The intern claims she was caught off guard so she did nothing for a few seconds, then pushed him away and left. At a later date, in response to an inquiry regarding other job opportunities, she was invited to stay with him in Atlantic City. This was an offer she refused.
When the claim was filed, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that since she was not a paid worker, she could not bring a claim under the city's human rights laws. Although some local laws may apply protection in cases like this, in the state of New York, they do not.
The claimant is still suing for failure to hire since she rejected her supervisor's advances. The company, the supervisor and the claimant could not be reached for comment.
There has been precedence for cases like this in the state, and it is clear the law needs to be revisited to protect anyone whose safety has been violated on the job, whether they get paid or not. Until the state of New York reexamines its stance on such matters, those employees experiencing inappropriate sexual comments or unwanted sexual advances on the job may have little recourse in civil court.
Source: www.nbcnewyork.com, "Unpaid Interns Can't Sue for Sex Harassment: Judge" No author given, Oct. 10, 2013