Effective June 14, 2014, the New York City Human Rights Law will extend its nondiscrimination protections to unpaid interns. An intern is defined 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.”
The amendment was enacted in response to Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television US, Inc., a 2013 Southern District of New York decision which held that unpaid interns do not qualify as employees under the New York City’s Human Rights Law.
There is a similar effort underway to amend the New York State Human Rights Law, which could reach a Senate vote shortly.
This has implications for higher education institutions in New York City who host interns from other institutions on their campuses, as well as for their own students who intern off-campus. And in those circumstances where an institution is sufficiently involved with a hosting employer that it could constitute a joint employer for employment law purposes with that hosting employer, there is the potential for additional exposure. In this latter instance, the impact of the amendment could even extend to institutions outside of New York City (and the direct jurisdiction of the NYC Human Rights Law) that send students to intern with New York City employers. The nondiscrimination policies of all these institutions should be reviewed to ensure that they appropriately address interns.
On a somewhat related note, lawyers from Bond recently submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the American Council on Education, and others, urging the Second Circuit to defer to higher education institutions on the value of unpaid internships in the context of federal wage-hour law.