New Protection Given To Unpaid Interns And Volunteers

Many employers use interns or volunteers from time to time. Internships and volunteer programs benefit workers seeking to gain experience, while giving employers the benefit of extra workers without having to commit long-term to an employee.

Recently, California law has been amended to provide additional safeguards for such workers. Assembly Bill 1443 amends the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), and prohibits discrimination and harassment to volunteers and unpaid interns. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, under the prior law, prohibition of discrimination (race, religion, sex, etc.) and harassment applied only to “apprentice programs” and “training programs” that specifically “led to employment,” but they did not apply expressly to unpaid intern or volunteer programs that were not designed to lead to actual employment.

FEHA also prohibits discrimination and harassment not just in hiring or terminating apprentices, interns and volunteers, but also discrimination and harassment in the “training” or “other terms or treatment” of these workers. Now, basically any discriminatory act is prohibited throughout the duration of the unpaid internship or volunteer period. Other states have enacted similar statutes.

Those in favor of this new law voiced concerns that the recent economic recession forced many people to resort to unpaid positions and internships to better their chances of finding work. This new law will allow those seeking work experience – often young people just entering the workforce – to enjoy the benefits of a workplace free from harassment and discrimination.

So if your business uses unpaid interns or volunteers, make sure your employee handbook and personnel policies reflect this new legislation. Also ensure that all everyone within the company knows that interns and volunteers have the same rights with respect to harassment and discrimination as all other employees.

This article is for education and information purposes only; it should not be construed as legal advice. If you have an employment law question for inclusion in a future article, contact Brett T. Abbott at Gubler & Abbott ([email protected]).For specific employment law advice or other legal assistance, contact Gubler & Abbott , (559) 625-9600, 1110 N. Chinowith St., Visalia, CA 93291 ( Mr. Abbott’s blog on employment law issues at