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Unpaid Interns And Sexual Harassment: Know Your Rights

In 2009, a graduate student at Syracuse University was an unpaid intern at Phoenix Satellite Television when she filed a claim against her supervisor for sexual harassment. In her lawsuit, she accused her boss of kissing, groping and participating in other inappropriate behavior that she did not agree to. Unfortunately, at that time, the law said that, since she was not being paid, she was not an official employee and thus could not actually file a claim against her employer. This case signaled a movement around the country to fight for the rights of unpaid interns.

Are Unpaid Interns Protected from Sexual Harassment?

The case in New York lead to an outcry from the nation, and a bill was introduced in California to include interns in the already existing laws. Assembly Bill 1443, effective as of January 1, 2013, now protects unpaid interns and volunteers from sexual harassment in the workplace in California. This bill expanded on the current Title VII laws which protect employees from discrimination while at work.

Because this bill expanded on Title VII, it also helped to protect against gender discrimination. The majority of people who take up unpaid intern positions are female. This bill puts further protection in place for the rights of women at their jobs.

California law also requires employers with 50 or more employees to give their employees a formal training on sexual harassment. This training must also include a section which declares unpaid interns and volunteers as official employees, and warns against inappropriate conduct against them. Unpaid interns and volunteers are now given the same rights and protection against sexual harassment as any other employee.

What Are Their Rights?

There are a couple types of sexual harassment. In California, there are two classifications: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment. Quid pro quo harassment involves a supervisor offering a benefit or threatening an employee's job in exchange for sexual advances. Hostile work environment harassment involves another employee repeatedly makes unwanted sexual advances or harasses an employee to the point where their work environment becomes hostile and they no longer feel safe at work.

Because unpaid interns and volunteers are considered official employees in the state of California, they are protected from both kinds of sexual harassment. You have a right to file a lawsuit, and both the perpetrator and the employer may be held liable. This means the employer, should they be found guilty, would be responsible for compensating the victim in some way, whether that be for emotional damages, attorney fees, or any monetary compensation required for the employee missing work.

It's important that if you think you have been sexually harassed in your workplace, that you take the necessary steps to report it. Even if you are working at a company for free and volunteering your time, you are still an employee and you are still entitled to a safe working environment. There are laws in place to protect you, and legal action should be taken to ensure the harassment doesn't continue.

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