On July 22, 2014, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill amending the New York Human Rights Law to grant unpaid interns protections from "discriminatory practices." The amendment is effective immediately and it prohibits covered employers from:
1. Refusing to hire, employing, discharging from an internship, or discriminating against an intern because of the intern’s age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, marital status, or domestic violence victim status ("protected characteristics");
2. Discriminating against any intern in receiving, classifying, or otherwise acting on applications for internships;
3. Printing or circulating any statement, advertisement, or publication; using any application; or making any inquiry in connection with prospective employment that expresses any limitation, specification, or discrimination related to any protected characteristic unless based on a bona fide occupational qualification;
4. Retaliating against any intern because he or she has opposed a practice forbidden by the State Human Rights Law or because the intern filed a complaint, testified, or assisted in any proceeding under the Human Rights Law;
5. Compelling an intern who is pregnant to take a leave of absence unless the intern is prevented by such pregnancy from performing the activities involved in the job in a reasonable manner; and
6. Harassing interns on the basis of protected characteristics.
The law defines an intern as an individual who performs work for an employer for the purpose of training where:
A. The employer is not committed to hiring the individual performing the work at the conclusion of the training period,
B. The employer and the individual agree that the individual is not entitled to wages for the work performed, and
C. The work performed a) provides or supplements training that may enhance the employability of the individual, b) provides experience for the benefit of the individual performing the work, c) does not displace regular employees, and d) is performed under the close supervision of existing staff.
On June 14, 2014, similar legislation took effect in New York City, extending the protections of the New York City Human Rights Law to paid and unpaid interns who work in New York City.
The new legislation creates an additional category of potential complainants for claims under the State Human Rights Law. To mitigate exposure to claims for harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, covered employers should review their policies and procedures to ensure that unpaid interns and, in New York City, paid and unpaid interns, are covered by the employer’s policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Further, complaints made by interns and reports of discriminatory treatment of interns should be investigated and handled in the same manner as complaints involving employees.