New York State Division of Human Rights Commissioner Helen Diane Foster has issued a press release reminding public and private sector employers in New York State that interns are protected from discrimination in the workplace under the New York State Human Rights Law. Foster indicated that “Unpaid interns are protected from harassment and other unlawful discrimination based on age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, marital status, or domestic violence victim status. “
Commissioner Foster said that “The Human Rights Law defines “intern” as a person who performs work for an employer for the purpose of training under certain circumstances. Among them, that the employer is not committed to hire the person performing the work at the conclusion of the internship and that the person performing the work agrees with the employer that they are not entitled to wages for the work performed. The work performed by the intern is to provide or supplement training that may enhance the intern’s "employability," provide experience for the intern’s benefit, be performed under close supervision of existing staff and not displace regular employees. If an individual is called an ‘intern’ but paid, that person will likely be considered a regular employee under the Human Rights Law.”
These provisions explicitly protect interns from sexual harassment, which under the Human Rights Law is considered a form of sex discrimination, as well as other forms of harassment
For their part, employers cannot discriminate against interns in selection, retention or terms, conditions and privileges of the internship or when advertising for the internship. It is also unlawful for employers to discriminate against pregnant interns or retaliate against an intern for opposing discriminatory behavior or for filing a complaint.
The Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, credit, and other jurisdictions, based on age, race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, military status, and other specified classes.