Unpaid Interns and their Rights to Protection from Sexual Harassment

Students of high schools and colleges in Philadelphia and across the state of Pennsylvania are always concerned about finding the right position as an unpaid intern to gain a foothold in their chosen field. The benefits they look for are experience, class credits, and opportunities to network and explore the workplace instead of a paycheck.

Unfortunately, some interns end up with a negative experience brought on by sexual advances from their fellow interns, mentors, and supervisors. This leaves them in a rather precarious and vulnerable position as their fear retaliation.

Fear of retaliation

According to Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers, unpaid interns are often hesitant to report any form of sexual harassment fearing that they may get a negative review or even be blacklisted in the industry, which could prevent them from working in their respective field in the future. Any intern who goes ahead with a formal complaint may benefit from disciplinary action taken against the harasser as long as the company has progressive policies against sexual harassment and discrimination. However, not many are willing to take that gamble.

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Unpaid interns excluded under law

Whether this leaves unpaid interns without any protection against sexual harassment from a legal perspective depends on the relevant laws of the state. The traditional remedy for employees is to file a lawsuit but in some cases this opportunity is not available to unpaid interns.

Their chances of claiming protection depend on relevant state laws, policies of the employer, and the nature of the intern’s agreement with the employer. In addition, laws and regulations of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may or may not give unpaid interns the chance to pursue legal action for any form of workplace sexual harassment. In Pennsylvania, employees are protected under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 that aim to eliminate sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.


However, these employee protection laws define employees as individuals who receive compensation and benefits, which exclude unpaid interns.

Protection under the FLSA

According to Philadelphia sexual harassment attorneys, Pennsylvania law does not permit sexual harassment lawsuits to be filed by unpaid interns. It is one among many states that does so. However, that doesn’t mean that interns have no legal recourse. If a company’s internship program fails to meet the standards of the US Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. Section 201 et seq.) it may be possible for interns to file claims.

The FLSA sets criteria that must be met by the company’s internship program. In some cases, an individual classified as an unpaid intern by one company may not be deemed so by the Department of Labor according to the FLSA. In companies who fail to meet the standards, interns may be classified as employees and attain all the legal rights, which includes compensation for overtime, minimum wages, and the right to protection and to seek legal action in the event of a sexual harassment episode.

If you are an unpaid intern and a victim of workplace sexual harassment, it would be prudent to get in touch with a magnificent and high caliber Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyer using this profound legal website. Your lawyer will be able to evaluate your status as an intern and determine the legal remedies possible depending on your case.