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Establishing a Safe Internship Program

Establishing a Safe Internship ProgramIn recent years, workplace exploitation, discrimination and other concerns involving interns have been pushed into the spotlight.  Unpaid interns may not have the same protections as the current employees in your workplace do, but that situation could change soon.  Across the country, there are moves to grant more protections for interns, similar to those that are currently available for employees on the payroll.

New York recently passed a new law that would actually extend workplace protections that are currently available for full employees, to interns as well.  The protections would allow interns to file lawsuits against the company, based on harassment in the workplace.  Similar legislation is currently pending in the state of California.  In January 2014, California Assembly member Nancy Skinner introduced legislation titled “Harassment: Unpaid Interns.”  The bill has not yet been passed, and is currently in committee, but if the bill is approved, it would extend protections against sexual harassment to unpaid interns as well.

Whether the law passes or not, employers must take care to establish a reputable internship program that avoids discrimination, and retaliation and prevents sexual harassment in the workplace.  At the very least, the media has been reporting heavily on cases of sexual harassment and discrimination involving interns, and this is now a hot button topic.  For instance, there have been lawsuits filed by interns, who claim that they were exploited, and made to perform tasks that were typically allotted to other employees.  Even if the law does not provide protection to unpaid interns, your business could suffer a loss of face if such allegations are made.

If you intend to establish an internship program in your workplace, design a proper and comprehensive job description for an intern.  Define small projects that interns can perform.  Avoid using interns as stop-gap employees.  Interns must not be made to perform tasks, that would have been performed otherwise by a regular employee.

While hiring an intern, use the same kind of hiring process that you currently use for other employees.  In other words, there must be a written application, an overview of the resume, as well as a proper interview.  Make sure that your company has an internship orientation program that allows interns to assimilate into the workplace, during their term at the company.

Assign at least one executive to intermediate with interns, and communicate to them their responsibilities at work.  Make sure that there is no miscommunication about the tasks that are assigned to interns.  Avoid adding to the task schedule, as and when you feel like it.

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