We talk often about the importance of employee rights and the different protections afforded to employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Employment and Housing Act, but did you know that some of these protections will soon also extend to volunteers or unpaid interns? Starting in 2015, FEHA will no longer be exclusively for full-time or part-time employees. Specifically, volunteers, interns and apprentices will now be protected from workplace harassment and discrimination. California is only the third state to offer these protections to such unpaid individuals.
Many college students are told of the importance of internships throughout their college career, and with good reason. In today’s job market, few companies are willing to take a chance on entry-level applicants, and most job openings require at least some form of exposure. Even if a company is willing to accept individuals with no experience, having an internship or some volunteer work under your belt will make you much more likely to land the job.
Of course, certain job environments are not as respectful to their employees as others, and being at the bottom of the proverbial totem could easily make some interns or volunteers a target for hazing or other such disrespectful behavior. The fact that these individuals had no legal protection from such harassment or discrimination made them much easier targets. Fortunately for any volunteers or interns who are experiencing such treatment, they will soon be able to take legal action.
When this law goes into effect, consider consulting with an attorney to help you discuss the details of your case. Of course these protections are currently afforded to employees, who can take legal action against employers whom they feel are discriminating against them or harassing them. Victims of discrimination or harassment are also encouraged to meet with an attorney. Legal action could help you feel more comfortable and safe at your place of work.