Legislative Alert: New York State Extends Anti-Discrimination Law Protections to Interns

Governor Cuomo has signed legislation extending coverage of the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) to unpaid interns.  In March 2014, we wrote about the New York City Council’s decision to amend the New York City Human Rights Law to extend its coverage to unpaid interns.  Now, interns in all of  New York will have the same protections from unlawful discrimination and harassment as paid employees. The NYSHRL prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, marital status, and domestic violence victim status.  The amended NYSHRL includes a new section 296-c, which, among other things, defines an “intern” to mean

a person who performs work for an employer for the purpose of training under the following circumstances:

a. the employer is not committed to hire the person performing the work at the conclusion of the training period;

b. the employer and the person performing the work agree that the person performing the work is not entitled to wages for the work performed; and

c. the work performed:

(1) provides or supplements training that may enhance the employability of the intern; (2) provides experience for the benefit of the person performing the work; (3) does not displace regular employees; and (4) is performed under the close supervision of existing staff.

The amendment does not seek to address issues of whether a worker is properly classified as an intern, or should be considered a paid employee, entitled to payment of the minimum wage and overtime.  Instead, it merely seeks to protect interns, like paid employees, from employment discrimination, including sexual harassment.  In determining whether a worker is a true intern, employers will still need to conduct a separate analysis for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law.  The definition of “intern” contained in the amended NYSHRL should not be considered in analyzing whether a worker is entitled to remuneration. If you have any questions concerning these developments, please contact our offices.