In the state of Florida, legal loopholes exist to prevent unpaid interns from filing sexual harassment claims. This could change, though, after a recent case has taken center stage in the national spotlight. A young woman filed a sexual harassment case against a company in which she had served as an unpaid intern. However, the presiding judge ruled that the woman did not have any rights to bring forward the action because she was not technically an employee.
According to the judge, the woman needed to be a paid worker in order to be considered an employee of the company and be protected by employment laws. Further, this is not solely an issue in the state where this action was filed. Numerous states throughout the nation do not provide legal protection from sexual harassment to unpaid interns.
One commentator mentioned that, given the wording of the legislation, the judge’s decision was not overly surprising — especially since judges do not often step outside the strict wording of a law. Others argue that the wording of this kind of legislation needs to be changed in states all over the country. They argue that everyone deserves to work in an environment free of sexual harassment — even unpaid interns. Harassment is harassment, whether the person is being paid or not. No one should have to deal with that kind of abuse.
It is unfortunate to think that someone might not be protected against sexual harassment in their place of work. However, in some cases, interns can lodge complaints against their employer successfully — particularly in large organizations, which have their own internal rules and regulations with regard to sexual harassment, outlined inside an employee’s contract with the firm. Seeking help from a professional is always advisable in any instance of sexual harassment, and victims must be courageous enough to stand up and report such inappropriate behavior. Monetary compensation can also be sought by legal means for damages, pain and suffering, and other financial consequences caused by sexual harassment in the state of Florida.
Source: alligator.org, Unpaid interns denied legal sexual harassment protection, Kristan Wiggins, Oct. 16, 2013