Unpaid interns’ rights should be recognized nationally

By Isabelle Cavazos, COLUMNISTS
On April 22, 2014

 

Unpaid internships have been slowly moving out of shadows in recent years, as seen with a new law that opened the door to unpaid interns’ rights. However, the unpaid internship system has not quite finished improving.

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law giving unpaid interns, who are not considered employees, the right to sue employers in the event of harassment or discrimination.

This extension to unpaid interns comes a year after a federal judge dismissed one intern’s sexual assault case against news broadcaster Phoenix Satellite Television on the grounds that workplace protection laws did not apply to her since she was not technically an employee.

This is a major step forward for the legal rights of unpaid interns in NYC — aside from the regulations outlined by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which monitors minimum wage and overtime, and states the intern should be benefitting more than the employer. But the new law should be applied federally as long as unpaid internships are still considered legal.

For the amount of time unpaid college interns spend working at a company, along with the prospected employment disadvantage they already have, the very least they can be offered is the right to hold employers who make uncalled for advances toward them legally accountable.

Though 51.3 percent of college interns are unpaid — according to a National Internship Salary survey conducted by Intern Bridge, a college research firm — Washington, D.C., Oregon and NYC are the only locations in the U.S. with laws allowing unpaid interns to take action against sexual harassment and discrimination, according to a CNN article.

Academic credit and the hope that one can find a job based on the experience gained in an internship is not enough compensation to keep unpaid interns silently working for a company — especially when the question of whether unpaid internships are even legal is still in the air. This is due to the difficulty measuring whether or not for-profit companies are not benefitting from the intern’s services, as an article from non-profit news source ProPublica argues.

The advantages of these are shaky too.

Though both paid and unpaid internships offer students a peek into the fields they want to pursue as they earn their degrees, unpaid interns may have more difficulty getting a future job.

A National Association of Colleges and Employers survey indicates that 63 percent of paid interns working at for-profit companies received job offers at graduation, while only 37 percent of unpaid interns did — close to the 35 percent of students who did not partake in an internship.

Clearly, a system in which students are not receiving monetary compensation or are not considered employees while completing work raises more than a handful of concerns.

However, companies should not be permitted to ignore the basic rights of these workers under the radar.

Isabelle Cavazos is a sophomore majoring in English.

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