Interns Protected by New York City Human Rights Law

May 29, 2014

Recently, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law, extending its protections to include unpaid interns. As the summer intern season approaches, workplace policies should reflect these changes, and all levels of management should be aware of the expanded coverage.

The change takes effect June 14, 2014. The amendment was adopted with unanimous support from the City Council, and then signed by the Mayor, in response to a case decided in October of last year. In Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television, an unpaid intern claimed she was subject to employment discrimination and brought claims under the New York State Human Rights Law as well as the New York City Human Rights Law. Ms. Wang’s claims were dismissed because unpaid interns were not “employees,” therefore they were not protected by the laws.

The amendment supersedes Wang and establishes that the City’s Human Rights Law includes paid and unpaid interns. The amendment adds a subdivision to the law, defining interns as temporary workers whose work: “a) provides training or supplements training given in an educational environment such that the employability of the individual performing the work may be enhanced; b) provides experience for the benefit of the individual performing the work; and c) is performed under close supervision of existing staff.”

The amendment takes effect soon, but the immediate impact will only be felt by New York City’s employers. At present, no similar amendment has been adopted for the New York State Human Rights Law.

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