On April 15, 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expanded protection under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) to include unpaid interns. The amendment effectively overturns the U.S. Southern District of New York’s October 2013 decision in Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television US, Inc., which was previously discussed on the Ogletree Deakins blog. The Wang decision held that unpaid interns do not qualify as employees under the NYCHRL and thus could not file discrimination and harassment claims against companies for which they performed work. The new law protects interns under the NYCHRL “without regard” to salary or wages, defining “intern” as “an individual who performs work for an employer on a temporary basis 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 the close supervision of existing staff.” As described by one New York City Council member, the new law “closes the loophole” that prevented the NYCHRL from protecting uncompensated interns. There is similar legislation to amend the New York State Human Rights Law currently pending in Albany. As a result of the amended NYCHRL, New York City employers should ensure that their anti-harassment and equal opportunity policies apply to any unpaid interns.
Note: This article was published in the April 2014 issue of the New York eAuthority.