It is common knowledge that employees are entitled to a workplace free from unlawful harassment and discrimination. It seems logical that interns would be entitled to the same protections; however, most anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws refer specifically to employees, and the definitions of employee included in those laws typically do not encompass unpaid interns. Connecticut has addressed this issue by passing a new law that explicitly prohibits discrimination and harassment against unpaid interns.
The law, An Act Protecting Interns from Workplace Harassment and Discrimination, goes into effect October 1, 2015, and it prohibits discrimination against interns on the basis of race, color, religious creed, age, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, present or past history of mental disability, intellectual disability, learning disability or physical disability. The law also prohibits sexual harassment toward any intern or individual seeking an internship.
Although many employers already prohibit discrimination and harassment against interns through their company policies, Connecticut employers should be aware that unpaid interns now have the same rights as employees when it comes to enforcing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws and will be able to raise their concerns at the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, as well as in court.