Amongst the many new employment related laws that will go into effect this year in California is AB 1443, which prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals in unpaid internships. It also extends religious belief protections and accommodation requirements to unpaid internships, individuals in apprenticeships, and to volunteers.
The new law reiterates that the California Fair Employment and Housing Act “protects and safeguards the right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain, and hold employment without discrimination, abridgment, or harassment on account of 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.”
Previously, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act’s protections applied to labor organizations, employment agencies, and specified training programs. AB 1443 extends the protections, making it illegal to harass or discriminate against “any person in the selection, termination, training, or other terms or treatment of that person in an unpaid internship, or another limited duration program to provide unpaid work experience for that person.”
The new law is a major win for unpaid interns, who now have the same protections against sexual harassment as paid employees. Because of the competitive nature of today’s job market, obtaining an internship is one way for individuals new to the workforce, reentering the workforce after a period of absence, or seeking a career change to obtain the skills and connections necessary to obtain “paid work.” An unpaid intern is likely hoping to be offered a paid job at the place of work where they are interning, and may not report discrimination or harassment in fear of missing out on paid employment as retaliation. With the passing of AB 1443, these unpaid interns will benefit from the legal protections against harassment and discrimination like their paid employee counterparts.
AB 1443 took effect on January 1, 2015, extending protections from discrimination and harassment to volunteers, unpaid interns, and individuals in apprenticeship training programs. Employers should ensure their employee manuals and company policies, as well as discrimination and harassment training programs, take into consideration this extension of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act’s protections.06