Young people coming out of college and graduate school these days are often told that internships are the necessary first step to starting a career. Internships in concept are a sort of modern version of the apprenticeship in which a relatively inexperienced but capable person has an opportunity to learn at the feet of more experienced professionals. For some college students or graduate students this can be done in exchange for credit at school, but in many cases internships are entirely uncompensated. The lack of pay creates some obvious problems for interns, most of them financial, but also gives rise to some less expected issues, such as a lack of employment protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
This lack of protection due to being unpaid and a non-employee comes into play when issues like harassment or discrimination arise and interns are left without the typical remedies available to paid employee such as the ability to seek damages.
This has become enough of a problem that lawmakers in some states are seeking to change the laws and ban discrimination against interns on the basis of race, gender, national origin, marital status, and other factors. These protections will go a long way towards offering interns meaningful remedies, but still have not taken hold on a national level.
Interns who do experience discrimination or harassment in the workplace may have other options, even if the laws in their state do not specifically speak to their situation. Interns who have questions about their rights may want to speak with an employment law attorney to find out more about their situation.
Source: Huffington Post, “No Intern Pay? No Protection From Harassment,” Ashley Mosley, Feb. 14, 2014.