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California bill aims to protect interns from sexual harassment

We’ve previously discussed the increasing number of legal actions by and on behalf of young people who work as interns. More are asking to be paid at least the minimum wage. Many Southern California movie studios and other entertainment-related businesses rely on interns for many of their day-to-day chores, and young people who seek a career in the entertainment industry willingly take these unpaid or low-paid positions for a chance to get their foot in the door of show business, gain some experience and make contacts in the industry. However, those fighting for the workplace rights of these interns say that they are often simply used as a “source of free labor” and do not receive the training and mentoring that an internship is intended to provide.

Now a California assemblywoman, Nancy Skinner from Berkeley, says that she will introduce a bill early next year to help protect interns from discrimination and sexual harassment, just as regular employees are protected under the law. The proposed law would not only prohibit sexual harassment of interns in California, but “apply general workplace civil rights protections to unpaid interns.”

The protection of interns from harassment and discrimination has already been the source of legal disputes. In New York City, an unpaid intern working for a television station recently accused someone in a supervisory position of sexual harassment. However, a federal district court ruled that because unpaid interns are not actually employees, they cannot bring such charges. Skinner contends that at a time when companies are increasingly relying on unpaid interns to help in the day-to-day operations of their business, they “owe them a safe and fair workplace.”

If this bill passes, it will help unpaid interns, most of whom are young people, who are the victims of harassment and discrimination in the workplace seek legal remedies. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity in the work environment, regardless of their position or salary. Anyone who is not can and should seek legal counsel to hold those who behave inappropriately responsible for their actions and to help prevent such behavior toward other employees.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, “Lawmaker to propose bill to protect unpaid interns in California ” Shan Li, Dec. 10, 2013

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