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Unpaid interns protected from sexual harassment under new law

There are certain protections that every California worker expects to have in the workplace. One, in particular, is the expectation to be free from sexual harassment. Under California law, workers have the right to be free from unwanted sexual advances, jokes, comments and other sexual harassment. Workers cannot be legally fired for complaining about these types of conditions. Furthermore, employees cannot face retaliation for refusing sexual advances or reporting sexual harassment.

However, until recently, volunteers and unpaid interns were not afforded these same protections. Since they were not technically employees, these employment laws did not apply to them. They could face workplace sexual harassment and have very little recourse available to them.

Last week, this changed when California Governor Jerry Brown created a new law. He signed a bill that protected unpaid interns and volunteers from facing retaliation in the workplace. The law allows these individuals to receive the same protections that are given to other employees. The new California law also protects unpaid interns and volunteers from discrimination because of their gender.

This law will help these workers from experiencing degrading and difficult situations while in their workplaces without having any recourse. California is not the third state to enact such protections.

Workers across California should understand their rights to be free from sexual harassment. They should also understand how to respond when sexual harassment does occur. Workers -- both paid and unpaid -- should not be afraid to exercise their rights after being subject to harassment. With the right help, legal action can be taken that not only stops the harassment but compensates workers for the illegal treatment.

Source: NBC Bay Area, "Bill Protecting Unpaid Interns From Sexual Harassment Signed by Gov. Brown," Sept. 15, 2014

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