Unpaid Intern Amendments take effect in New York City


Recently passed amendments to the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), dubbed the “unpaid intern amendments,” took effect this past Saturday June 14, 2014.  Previously, there had been a question as to whether, under the NYCHRL, unpaid interns were afforded the same rights as employees, and could sue employers for discrimination/harassment based on race, age, color, creed, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, disability and other protected classes.  The NYCHRL amendments clarified that its protections and the right to sue extend to unpaid interns.

The NYCHRL defines an “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.”  The term includes both paid and unpaid interns.

The amendments came in response to Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television US, Inc. wherein the Southern District of New York held that plaintiff, an unpaid intern, could not file a harassment claim because an unpaid intern was not considered an “employee” under the NYCHRL.  The amendments passed on March 26, 2014 by a unanimous Council and were signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio on April 15.  Similar efforts are underway with regard to the New York State Human Rights Law.

Given that many New York City employers are currently in the early days of their unpaid internship programs, it is advised that New York City employers revisit their employment handbooks and harassment policies to ensure their application to unpaid interns as well.

If you would like to have if your employee handbook reviewed by members of Connell Foley’s employment law group, please call us at 973.535.0500.