A recent sexual harassment case in New York hinged on a judge’s interpretation that unpaid interns are not employees because they do not get paid, consequently they are not covered by laws governing the treatment of employees. This is a typical right-wing ploy in that it is all about the benjamins, but it is also wrong.
If an unpaid intern were to damage another’s person or property, do you think that the company’s insurance company would get away with saying “sure they were an intern of the company, but we don’t have to pay off on any claims due to her misconduct because she wasn’t paid.” Not that they wouldn’t try, but I don’t think it would work.
Can just any old employee bring an intern into the company upon his or her own cognizance or does it need to be approved? Is there any paperwork to be filled out? If not, the corporate spying industry just got a back door into any company with an troubled employee.
Interns, paid or not, are operating under a quid pro quo: “I will work for you if you teach me useful things or, at a minimum, you write me a letter of reference saying I have experience in your business.” How could it be otherwise? Do you really expect that interns are working for free because they are bored or haven’t got anything better to do?
Unpaid interns are employees because they are trading their labor for an education (OJT). Consequently they are gainfully employed.
And allowing sexual harassment because of loopholes in the law does seem just, now does it?