Protections under the Fair Employment and Housing Act Extended to Unpaid Interns

Employment Law  

October 8, 2014

On September 9, 2014, Governor Brown signed AB 1443, which modifies the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to prohibit discrimination and harassment against unpaid interns or volunteers. The law prohibits employers from subjecting unpaid interns to discrimination and/or harassment based on their race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status. With this new law in effect, employers are now prohibited from discriminating against unpaid interns on the basis of the foregoing protected characteristics in the “selection, termination, training or other terms” of employment. The law also prohibits harassment of unpaid interns based on protected characteristics, and it makes employers liable for sexual harassment of unpaid interns by non-employees if an employer knew or should have known of the conduct but failed to promptly take appropriate corrective action.

In addition, employers may not take adverse actions against unpaid interns based on their religious beliefs and must provide reasonable accommodations for religious observance unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. This new anti-harassment category should be added to company policies and incorporated into harassment prevention training. Employers should also advise interns of their rights and encourage them to report any perceived misconduct to a designated company employee.