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New York Enacts Anti-Discrimination Legislation Protecting Interns in the Workplace

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation amending the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) to protect unpaid interns against workplace discrimination and retaliation. 

Protected categories under the New York State Human Rights law include age, creed, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, disability, military status, domestic violence victim status, arrest record, conviction record and predisposing genetic characteristics.

New York joins Oregon, Washington, D.C., and New York City as jurisdictions that expressly protect unpaid interns against discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

State Senator Liz Krueger introduced the legislation following an October 2013 decision from Judge P. Kevin Castel of the Southern District of New York holding that unpaid workers had no redress for claims of discrimination or harassment because they did not receive compensation. 

While the new law clearly extends protection to unpaid interns, who are not entitled to wages, litigation continues over whether individuals classified as interns by businesses are misclassified and entitled to minimum wage under federal and, as applicable, state law. 

Covered Individuals

Under the new law, which was signed on July 22nd and went into effect immediately, “interns” are persons who perform work for an employer for the purpose of training and:

  • there is no commitment by the employer to hire the individual at the end of the training period;

  • there is an agreement between the individual and the employer that the individual is not entitled to wages; and

  • the work performed meets the following four criteria: (1) it provides or supplements training that could enhance the individual’s employability; (2) it benefits the individual; (3) it does not displace regular employees; and (4) it is performed under close staff supervision. 

Prohibitions

Employers are prohibited from engaging in the following acts against individuals who meet the definition of an intern:

  • discriminating on the basis of a protected category and retaliating against an individual for opposing discrimination with respect to: the handling and treatment of their application; hiring; terms, conditions, or privileges of employment (as an intern); and discharge;

  • producing statements, advertisements, publications, or internship (employment) applications that express (or are intended to express) limitations, specifications, or discrimination on the basis of a protected category;

  • compelling an intern who is pregnant to take a leave of absence, unless the pregnancy prevents her from performing the activities associated with her position in a reasonable manner; and

  • sexual harassment or harassment on the basis of a protected category.

New York employers should ensure their organizations apply all of their equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment policies and principles to interns, as they do employees. 

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume IV, Number 212

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About this Author

Richard Greenberg, Jackson Lewis, workplace grievances lawyer, arbitrations litigation attorney
Principal

Richard Greenberg is a Principal in the New York City, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He advises both unionized and union-free clients on a full-range of labor and employee relations matters.

With respect to traditional labor matters, Mr. Greenberg represents clients in collective bargaining negotiations, labor disputes, grievances and arbitrations, proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board, and in state and federal court. Mr. Greenberg also advises clients on the legal aspects of remaining union-free....

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Susan M. Corcoran, Jackson Lewis, fair credit reporting lawyer, Labor Policy Attorney
Principal

Susan M. Corcoran is a Principal in the White Plains, New York, office of Jackson Lewis, P.C. Ms. Corcoran is a seasoned employment counselor and litigator and is often thought of as the “go to” person on national workplace law issues for her clients.

She is one of the leaders of the firm’s Background Check Resource Group, and serves as a resource on fair credit reporting act issues, as well as “ban the box” strategies. She taught a graduate employment law class for many years at Manhattanville College and frequently speaks before different groups on a variety of workplace law issues. She had recently served two terms as NYS SHRM Legislative Director, successfully participating in lobbying efforts to overturn New York’s annual WTPA notice requirement.

914-872-6871
Christopher M. Valentino, EEOC litigation, labor attorney, Jackson Lewis Law firm, employment litigator
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Christopher M. Valentino is Office Managing Principal of the Long Island, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and is a member of the firm’s Board of Directors. Mr. Valentino represents companies in matters relating to traditional labor, equal employment opportunity, employment litigation and related matters.

Mr. Valentino has extensive experience in all matters relating to EEO compliance and workplace laws and a frequent speaker at management education programs. Since joining Jackson Lewis in September 2000, he has regularly counseled clients in the...

631-247-4653
Daniel J. Jacobs, Jackson Lewis law firm, Labor Employment Attorney
Shareholder

Daniel J. Jacobs is a Shareholder in the New York City, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He assists both unionized and union-free clients with a full-range of labor and employee relations matters.
With respect to traditional labor matters, Mr. Jacobs represents clients in collective bargaining negotiations, contingency planning, labor disputes, grievances and arbitrations, proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board, and in state and federal court.
Mr. Jacobs also has experience assisting clients in numerous industries with the...

212-545-4000
Ellen Bandel, Jackson Lewis, personnel policies lawyer, corporate reorganizations attorney
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Ellen M. Bandel is an Associate in the New York City, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C.

Ms. Bandel assists both unionized and union-free clients with a full-range of labor and employee relations matters, including assisting clients in numerous industries with the development and maintenance of personnel policies, reorganizations and reductions in force, sexual harassment and other workplace conduct rules, wrongful discharge, and other workplace litigation. Ms. Bandel also advises clients on compliance with the myriad...

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