Md.: Governor Signs Law Protecting Unpaid Interns from Discrimination

By SHRM Online staff
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Gov. Larry Hogan signed legislation that protects unpaid interns under Maryland’s anti-discrimination laws.

The law, which takes effect Oct. 1, 2015, states that employers may not “fail or refuse to offer an internship, terminate an internship, or otherwise discriminate against an individual with respect to the terms, conditions, or privileges of an internship because of the individual's race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability unrelated in nature and extent so as to reasonably preclude the performance of the internship.”

The new measure defines an intern as an individual who performs “work for an employer for the purpose of training.” However, an intern is not entitled to wages for the work performed, and the employer is not committed to hiring an intern at the end of the training period. In addition, an intern can only do work that supplements training given at an education environment that may enhance his or her employability, provides experience for an intern’s benefit, and does not displace regular employees.

Under the new law, interns will “have access to any internal procedure the employer has for resolving a complaint by an employee of sexual harassment or other discrimination.” If an employer does not have such a procedure, interns would be able to file complaints with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights.

According to the legislation, interns would be limited to nonmonetary remedies under the measure, such as an order reinstating an intern; requiring employer training; or reinstating other benefits lost, such as work assignments or access to mentors, because of discrimination.

The preamble to the legislation notes a number of reasons for the law’s passage, including:

*Recent decisions by federal courts and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, holding that civil rights protections do not extend to unpaid interns.

*The increase in number of paid internships due to the changing requirements of educational programs and the economic downturn.

*The vulnerability of interns, who are often young, inexperienced, or seeking recommendations or regular employment.

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