August 24, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/
-- As summer employment winds up and students return to high schools and colleges across Pennsylvania, they are concerned about finding positions where they will both learn and hopefully gain a foothold in their chosen field that might lead to a job offer down the road. Most come with a host of benefits - including class credit, experience and networking opportunities, to name a few - despite their lack of a paycheck.
Sadly, some interns have a much more negative internship experience than others because of unwanted sexual advances by supervisors
, fellow interns, mentors or managers. Some are hesitant to report disturbing or harassing behavior for fear of some kind of retaliation, which could be anything from giving a negative review to a teacher or even industry "blackballing" that could prevent the intern from finding work in his or her chosen field in the future.
If an intern is brave enough to formally make a complaint in a company with progressive policies, then it is likely that disciplinary action might be taken against the harasser, but that is a bet many interns won't take.
Are "traditional" remedies available?
So, are unpaid interns actually left unprotected against sexual harassment? The answer to that question - like so many others that arise in legal circles - is that "it depends."
If repeated sexual harassment
continues unabated, an unpaid intern might be tempted to pursue an employment law claim in court. This is the "traditional" remedy for victims of sexual harassment, but this important opportunity may not be available to some unpaid interns.
Depending on the relevant state laws, workplace policies and the nature of their intern arrangement, federal laws and regulations promulgated by agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, unpaid interns might be prohibited from bringing civil actions to address workplace sexual harassment. At this time, Pennsylvania law does not explicitly allow sexual harassment suits to be filed by or on behalf of unpaid interns. In fact, as of now, only Oregon has proactively passed legislation to grant similar rights to interns that employees in this situation would have.
A key distinction
That doesn't mean that interns have no legal redress. In many instances, someone classified as an "unpaid intern" by a particular company may not be seen the same way by the federal Department of Labor (DOL) because of language present in the Fair Labor Standards Act. The DOL has interpreted the rules promulgated by the FLSA to devise criteria that must be met in order for a company's internship program
to be properly classified as such. Should a company's program not meet these standards, their "interns" should actually be considered employees, with all the legal rights and responsibilities - including minimum wages, overtime compensation and the ability to seek legal action to put a stop to unwanted sexual harassment - afforded to employees.
Are you the victim of workplace sexual harassment? Would you like more information about how civil rights and employment laws address this issue? Do you have concerns about your status as an "intern" and whether it could impact your ability to seek legal remedies for the harassment against you? For the answers to these and other employment-related issues, seek the advice of a Pennsylvania employment law attorney in your area today.
Article provided by McCarthy Weisberg Cummings, P.C.
Visit us at www.discrimination-harassment-law.com