Unpaid Interns and Volunteers Covered by FEHA in 2015

California law will now give unpaid interns and volunteers a number of the same legal protections as regular employees. Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on race, religion, national origin, ancestry, disabilities, sex, gender, age sexual orientation, or gender expression. Assembly Bill 1443 will expand the protections against discrimination and harassment to unpaid interns and volunteers. The law will go into effect January 1, 2015. The new law will also require employers to accommodate the religious beliefs of volunteers and unpaid interns.

working-511610-mIf you are an unpaid intern or volunteer, you should know your rights under California law. The new protections require employers to expand their policies that prohibit discrimination and harassment. Employers should also make necessary changes to handbooks, policies, and guidelines to ensure that interns and volunteers are protected against unlawful actions. Employers are also responsible for informing interns and volunteers about these protections and offer procedures for reporting harassment and discrimination.

Employers are responsible for ensuring that workers are protected against harassment and discrimination. Extending this protection to unpaid interns and volunteers means that employers with 50 or more employees must provide at least two hours of training and education regarding sexual harassment to all supervisory employees. These training sessions must take place to reiterate issues and processes every two years. To better protect employees and to prevent liabilities, many employers are providing this training to both supervisors as well as all members of the staff. Additional protections could include providing training to volunteers and interns so that they know their rights in the workplace.

Employers are required to specifically define abuse so that supervisors can prevent such practices in the workplace. Sexual harassment and discrimination may include verbal abuse, including derogatory remarks, insults, epithets, of physical conduct that a reasonable person may find intimidating or threatening. Abuse may also include sabotaging or undermining a person’s work performance. Employers should specifically prohibit abusive conduct and provide a system for reporting such abuses. In any case, an experienced legal advocate should review the facts, identify any violations, and take action against an employer. Employers can also protect themselves and prevent liability through proper training and counsel of supervisors, employees, interns, and volunteers.

Unpaid interns may benefit professionally from a position even if they are not given compensation. Similarly, volunteers often find a deeper value and meaning in their work despite being unpaid. Donating hours of time and service to benefit a career or for personal interest should not leave these workers vulnerable to abuses and other legal violations. If you are an unpaid intern or a volunteer who has suffered from discrimination or harassment, remember that you are protected under California law. Our Orange County employment law attorneys are dedicated to protecting the rights of workers and helping our clients take action against unruly employers and companies. We will take the time to investigate your case and advise you on the appropriate legal action, including settlement or trial.

Employment lawsuits can be filed with assistance from the Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange County. Call 949.375.4734.

More Blog Entries:

California Employment Law: New new Donor Protection Act, December 7, 2013 Orange County Employment Lawyer Blog

California’s Top Employment Law Mistakes, Oct. 26, 2013, Orange County Employment Lawyer Blog

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