One California lawmaker plans to introduce a bill in January that will protect unpaid interns from sexual harassment and other discrimination at work.
Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said the legislation will give these interns, most often young people, much needed legal safeguards on the job.
"The recession has forced young people to rely on these unpaid positions to build resumes and contacts in an incredibly competitive job market," Skinner said in a statement. "Employers owe them a safe and fair workplace."
The ethics and fairness of unpaid internships have recently been subjects of much debate among lawmakers, academics and the business world.
Supporters say such jobs provide a way for students and new graduates to network and pick up valuable skills. Critics say many companies exploit the system as a source of free labor with little thought to nurturing their interns.
Skinner's bill come shortly after a federal district court ruled that New York City's Human Rights Law does not protect unpaid interns. Since such workers are technically not employees, the court ruled, an unpaid intern at a TV broadcast station, who accused a superior of inappropriate behavior, could not bring a sexual harassment claim against him.
The latest proposed regulation would explicitly ban in California sexual harassment in the workplace against unpaid interns and also "apply general workplace civil rights protections to unpaid interns."