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Interns to be protected from sexual harassment

Interns sometimes have the worst job duties in workplaces in Maryland. As entry level and highly-motivated workers who are just getting their feet in the door, they often do not mind this too much. While interns may have much to learn and to prove, it is important that employers do not take advantage of them. Unfortunately, in recent years many interns have sued employers, indicating that employers may not be respecting the rights of interns.

Interns, however, do not always have the same rights as regular employees and this can be part of the problem. In many cases, unpaid interns actually are not considered employees under the law, and this means that they do not have the same employment rights. Employees have certain rights to wages and to work in environments free of discrimination and harassment, but this is not always true for interns -- who are often the youngest, inexperienced and most vulnerable workers in a workplace.

New York City recently moved to correct this discrepancy and provide interns with some basic legal protections. Last week, the city council passed an amendment to a city law in order to provide interns with civil rights in the workplace as well as protections from sexual harassment.  

Mayor Bill de Blasio must sign the bill before it will become effective. He is expected to do so soon, making the city the second in the nation to put legal measures in place to protect unpaid interns.

While the bill provides interns with important protections, some have argued that it does not go far enough because its definition of "intern" is limited and some interns may not be covered.

Even though interns do not have such legal protections in Maryland, they should seek legal counsel if they experience sexual harassment or discrimination in the course of an internship. In some cases, workers are misclassified as interns, meaning that they deserve all of the same protections as employees.

Source: Newsweek, "NYC Passes Amendment to Protect Unpaid Interns Against Sexual Harassment," Zach Schonfeld, March 27, 2014

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