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Interns: Not Paid, Not Protected by Harassment Laws

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Interns may not mind being unpaid, but they'll likely have a problem with this: A New York Federal District Court ruled this month that an un-paid intern cannot file harassment claims because they aren't official employees.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Interns may not mind being unpaid, but they'll likely have a problem with this: A New York Federal District Court ruled this month that an un-paid intern cannot file harassment claims because they aren't official employees.

Internships are a helpful tool when it comes to getting your foot in the door, but many people don't realize that without a salary, benefits, or sick time you're not technically considered an employee, and therefore not protected under the law.

"The thing that you get there is experience, you can write it in your resume, and that's the most important thing, even if you don't get paid for it," says Jessica Jurado, a senior at Evangel.

Jurado interned at a TV station in Chicago without pay this past summer.

"When you officially apply for a job,” she says. “It helps you in the long run.”

Jurado had a great experience interning, but is upset by the fact that interns are not protected when it comes to sexual harassment.

"There is that fear,” Jurado says. “But you just have to hope that it's not going to happen."

In the most recent case of this, a New York Federal District Court ruled this month that an unpaid intern could not bring a sexual harassment claim under New York human rights laws because she was not paid, and therefore not considered an employee.

"Title VII under the Human Rights Act in Federal Law, and you also have the Missouri Human Rights Act, which only applies to Missouri, those laws only apply specifically to employment relationships," says Raymond Lampert, an attorney.

"The first threshold test on whether a person is covered as an employee is whether they receive any sort of compensation,” says Lampert. “Interns aren't covered under sexual harassment laws because they're not employees. They’re not paid."

Lampert says interns aren't completely helpless.

"They are still protected by the same laws that protect everybody else,” he says. “Regardless if there's an employment relationship or not."

Still, many people like Jurado think interns should be protected.

"Because that's a human being, and I think you shouldn't consider some person in an internship just as a thing just because they're doing it for free," Jurado says.

According to CNN, so far only one state, Oregon, has broadened out the standards for harassment to protect unpaid interns.

The state passed a law in June that extends such protections to all interns, whether they are paid or not.

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