Unpaid Volunteers and Interns Are Accorded Some of the Same Protection as Paid Employees Under FEHA

This year the California Legislature enacted various new employment laws. Most likely, the typical employee is unaware of the new employment laws enacted by the Legislature, thus it may be good to review some of the new 2015 labor laws from time to time. One of the more interesting newly enacted labor laws passed by the Legislature includes expanding anti-discrimination and anti-harassment protections under California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) to unpaid interns and volunteers.

Prior to 2015, unpaid interns and volunteers were not protected from under the FEHA anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws. Rather, prior to 2015, the only unpaid workers who were protected by FEHA were those unpaid workers that were engaged in a program that would lead to a paid employee position.

Now, the 2015 law expands FEHA to protect unpaid interns and volunteers from discrimination and harassment based on, among other things, race, religion, national origin, disability, gender, or sexual orientation, age, or military and veteran status. Now, any discrimination or harassment based on a protected characteristic against an unpaid intern or volunteer is unlawful if it occurs at any time while the intern or volunteer is working for the employer. For example, it is now unlawful for an employer to sexually harass a volunteer or unpaid intern in the workplace.

At the end of the day, this is a win for Californians who are using a volunteer position or unpaid intern position to obtain a paid position. At a time when securing employment is rather difficult, it is important that those who are working unpaid with the hopes of securing a paid position are also protected from employer misconduct. If you are a volunteer or an unpaid intern, and your employer is discriminating against you or harassing you, then call a California employment lawyer immediately.

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