Although it’d be nice if all internships were paid, I am grateful to have the opportunity to intern somewhere that teaches me skills I cannot learn in the classroom.
However, I recently learned of a different issue with unpaid internships. According to a USA Today article, a woman had filed a lawsuit against someone in the company for sexual harassment during her time as an intern with the company.
This situation took place in New York, but in reality, this sort of scenario could happen elsewhere due to Oregon being the only to state to have its sexual harassment protection extended to interns. This is due to unpaid interns not technically being employees since they are not on payroll.
To me, this is outrageous. I never would have guessed that someone would be unable to receive protection against sexual harassment in an environment where one of the main goals is to train interns to be professionals at their future jobs. What is professional about allowing sexual harassment against interns in the workplace?
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature … it does not have to be of a sexual nature and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.”
The scenario in the USA Today article was that the young woman claimed to be lured to a hotel room under the pretense that she would be discussing business with one of her supervisors. In the room, however, she said that he forcibly kissed her and she immediately left following the incident. If that is not sexual harassment, I’m not sure what else could possibly qualify.
I understand that there are people in the world who make up lies regarding these sorts of scenarios for various reasons, such as money and attention. So I do realize that if unpaid interns were also covered by sexual harassment policies in the other 49 states, there could potentially be even more false claims.
However, I feel like those who are not as morally ethical and wish to act on these intentions in a workplace environment are more likely to do so if there is no consequence for sexually harassing an unpaid intern. It seems to go along with the “if you can’t get caught” mentality that many children have — they might get caught but nothing will happen to them if an intern feels uncomfortable or harassed.
I believe that there needs to be some sort of compromise. While unpaid interns are not employees and will likely never be considered as such, there must be a solution that would help them if a harassment situation arises. Perhaps this solution includes a separate clause within the sexual harassment policy that various states and companies abide by; it’s something that definitely needs to be considered in the future.
I also believe that the interns who experience these unfortunate situations need to stand up for themselves, even if they have no legal ground at this point in time. Something needs to be done, but nothing will happen if people stay silent.
Grace Johnson is a senior publishing major and columnist for The Vidette. Any questions or comments regarding her column can be sent to email@example.com.