Protecting Interns from Workplace Harassment and Discrimination

On Tuesday, May 26, the Connecticut House of Representatives unanimously approved Senate Bill No. 428, An Act Protecting Interns from Workplace Harassment and Discrimination. The new law will go to Governor Malloy’s desk for signature. This Act provides unpaid interns the same anti-discrimination and harassment protections that employees in this state are guaranteed. The CHRO’s position has always been that state anti-discrimination laws covered unpaid interns. The passage of this new law should leave no doubt that interns are covered by those laws.

The new law prohibits discriminatory employment practices related to hiring, firing, and advertising for unpaid internships on the basis of membership in a protected class. It also prohibits sexual harassment against interns and protects them from retaliation. With this law, Connecticut will join Washington D.C., Oregon, Illinois, New York and California in having a law on the books providing anti-discrimination protections to unpaid interns.

Intern discrimination and harassment has certainly become a growing problem across the country and the Connecticut Legislature has rightly responded. In a 2013 court case from New York an unpaid intern sued after a supervisor allegedly sexually harassed her. The court ended up throwing out the case, holding that the laws protecting employees from sexual harassment did not apply because unpaid interns are not employees. This case highlights why Connecticut’s new law is so important. With this legislation Connecticut has taken a proactive leap to limit discrimination and harassment against interns.

The law should in no way make employers wary of continuing any unpaid internship program they may have. Unpaid interns aren’t being given any special treatment or extra rights. The law simply confirms the CHRO’s position that interns are entitled to the same protections and rights against workplace discrimination and harassment as all other workers.