How Are Interns Protected from Discrimination in the Workplace?
How Are Interns Protected from Discrimination in the Workplace?

How Are Interns Protected from Discrimination in the Workplace?

It wasn’t until recently that interns and volunteers were protected from discrimination and harassment on the job. In recent years, California has extended such protections to interns and those in other unpaid positions. Interns who’ve been discriminated against in the course of their work have rights, and an experienced California discrimination attorney can help.

Fair Employment and Housing Act

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits harassment that is based on being in a protected class against all the following:

  • Unpaid interns and volunteers
  • Employees
  • Applicants 
  • Contractors 

Harassment is a form of discrimination, and this law applies to employers across California – even those who have fewer than five employees. 

FEHA also makes it unlawful to retaliate against all the above categories of employees for asserting their legal rights in relation to discrimination, and this applies to all employers with five or more employees. 

Protected Classes

In California, those class characteristics that employees – including interns – are protected from discrimination regarding include all the following:

  • Age – for those over 40
  • Sex and gender, which extends to pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and related medical conditions
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity and gender expression
  • Race
  • Skin color
  • Ancestry 
  • National origin, including language use 
  • Religion, which includes religious grooming practices and forms of religious dress
  • Marital status
  • Medical conditions, including genetic characteristics and cancer or a history of cancer
  • Disability 
  • Genetic information
  • Veteran or military status
  • Request for family care leave, for leave related to the employee’s own serious health condition, or for pregnancy disability leave

The Importance and Prevalence of Interns

While volunteers and interns haven’t always been regarded in the same light as employees, this is changing. Internships have an important role in our nation’s system of higher education – providing undergrads and graduate students alike with valuable work skills and enhanced capabilities. The State of California recognizes that all employees – whether paid or not – are entitled to protection against discrimination and harassment.

What Discrimination on the Job Looks Like

It can be difficult for employees to recognize that they’ve been discriminated against in the workplace. Many feel like they’re being treated unfairly but aren’t able to pinpoint the problem. While every discrimination claim is unique, they can all be condensed to a single primary element. When an intern or any other employee is treated less favorably or differently than any other employee based on any of the classes listed above, it’s discrimination, and the State of California has legal remedies. 

Turn to an Experienced California Discrimination Attorney

The compassionate California discrimination attorneys at Minnis & Smallets appreciate that too many interns and volunteers fail to recognize their legal rights and are discriminated against as a result. Discrimination in California is unlawful whether the employee is paid or not, and we are committed to protecting the rights of all employees. Learn more about what we can do to help by reaching out and contacting us for more information today. 

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