It almost seems as if internships are now a prerequisite to getting a career. While there are a number of people in Queens who are searching for these coveted internships, even if they are unpaid, they may not realize that interns often don't have the same sorts of protections that an actual employee has. It is more than just pay, but even something as basic as protection against sexual harassment and workplace discrimination. Though Mayor Bill de Blasio just signed a bill that would protect interns against sexual harassment, there are several things missing from this new law.
First, the only interns who will be protected from sexual harassment and workplace discrimination are those whose internships would be legally classified as such by the Labor Department. The problem is, most internships in Queens do not meet the department's requirements.
Moreover, at least one labor activist is concerned that the law will push the legitimacy of unpaid internships. There has been considerable organizing around internships in the past, especially the concern that unpaid internships do not conform to state and federal labor laws.
There is no denying, however, that this bill is an important first step in the fight for improving interns' working conditions. Without a set of rights for interns to draw upon, albeit a limited group of interns, they would be unable to even file a sexual harassment or workplace discrimination lawsuit in New York courts.
Whether this bill will be expanded to include interns that are not currently covered by this bill or whether other communities in New York will adopt similar bills remains to be seen.
Source: Newsweek, "Mayor de Blasio Signs Bill Protecting New York's Unpaid Interns From Sexual Harassment," Zach Schonfeld, April 16, 2014