On Tuesday, April 15, 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law to expand the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) to include interns within its scope of coverage. Once this new law takes effect on June 14, 2014, all protections afforded to employees who work in New York City under the NYCHRL will also be afforded to interns (paid or unpaid) who work in New York City. This includes protections against unlawful discrimination and harassment, retaliation for complaining about unlawful discrimination or harassment, and accommodations for known or perceived disabilities and religious observances.
The amendment defines “intern” as someone who performs work for an employer on a temporary basis whose work:
(a) provides training or supplements training given in an educational environment such that the employability of the individual performing the work may be enhanced;
(b) provides experience for the benefit of the individual performing the work; and
(c) is performed under the close supervision of existing staff.
The New York City Council introduced and passed the bill in March 2014 in response to a federal district court decision holding that New York State and City human rights laws did not protect unpaid interns from sexual harassment because interns did not qualify as “employees.” See Wang. v. Phoenix Satellite Television U.S., Inc., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143627. We wrote about that decision here.
A similar bill is currently before the New York State Legislature to provide the same protections under the New York State Human Rights Law. The State bill, however, would apply only to unpaid interns. The State bill was referred to the New York Committee on Governmental Operations in January 2014 and is still several steps away from reaching Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk. We wrote about the State bill here.
The treatment of interns has received a lot of recent attention, as we previously wrote about here and here. With Summer and its associated internships fast approaching, employers should assure, through conducting training and monitoring workplace behavior, that interns receive the same protections from workplace misconduct as employees to avoid liability for discriminatory treatment under New York City law.