How Interns Can Protect Themselves in the Wake of #MeToo

Rebecca LeeInternship Programs, Internship TipsLeave a Comment

A therapist stands at the counter in front of a New York landscape, and asks his client, “When she said that exactly, what did you think, and how did you feel about her?” The client, who’s feet are only seen as he lays on the couch says, “All I remember feeling is cheap. And she is the manager. What could I do about it?” But, in his head, he is thinking, “I am barely getting by now. What if I get fired over this? I cannot afford this issue right now.”
Written By: Rebecca Lee
Graphics By: Lydell Jenkins

Protection from Harassment for Interns

In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the controversy surrounding Hollywood figures such as Harvey Weinstein, it is crucial that interns learn how to protect themselves from sexual harassment. Do they have the same rights as employees? In most states, the answer is no. Under the Federal Civil Rights Act, interns do not receive any protection. Since interns are not considered employees, they may hold different rights. This lack of employee privileges rings true for local and remote interns.

Sadly, this includes laws created to protect employees from harassment. For example, the Capitol requires interns to sign a non-disclosure agreement. If an intern needs to file a harassment charge, they are under a contract stating they won’t disclose any information. This can frighten interns who may be searching for a career in politics. It discourages them from seeking a job they would otherwise be great at.

When Can Sexual Harassment Happen?

Sexual harassment can happen to anyone at any time. A report from Business Insider says that interns are prone to facing harassment or sexual abuse. The free reign employers have can be dangerous and leave the intern vulnerable, scared, and traumatized. The intern may begin to feel used, taken advantage of, or even fear for their life.

Are there Protections in Any State?

You may be asking two questions: 1.) Do interns receive protection in any state? And 2.) Does the Civil Rights Act ever protect interns? Yes, many states offer protection under their own laws. In 2013 to around 2015, seven states approved laws that treat interns as employees. An organization ensuring state legislatures stay strong, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), says the leading states protecting interns are Missouri, Colorado, Oregon, and Wyoming. The Anti-Harassment Policy and Procedures Act created by the Maryland General Assembly is one example that applies to interns as well as employees. In the states above, interns own the same rights as employees.

Here’s How to Protect Yourself

Know and Study the Laws for the States you are Interning

This part of the research is crucial for virtual interns. Working remotely, you may be a citizen of one state but an employee for another, meaning different laws apply. Studying and researching the laws for where you live, as well as where you work, is essential to understand what protections you have and what protections you don’t. Because so many states have failed to include interns in their workplace sexual harassment laws, you can benefit by knowing what laws your state has before you begin your internship. In the event that something happens, you will know your rights.

Ask if Employers Require Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

Many companies and schools offer courses or require their employees to attend training classes, which teach them how to spot and prevent sexual harassment. Basic research could help you understand which companies require such classes. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to ask if the company offers these classes for interns and employees. Interns have few protections and could face dangerous situations. Your fear has a rational basis. Knowing each company’s policies before you begin an internship will allow you to understand which positions are right for you and which ones offer the most protection and benefits.

Search for Sexual Harassment Prevention and Protection Classes

Usually, you will be able to find free or cheap local courses. These classes will teach you what qualifies as sexual harassment, ways to spot it, skills on how to protect yourself, and information on current laws. The Freedom Forum Institute created The Power Shift Project to boost integrity for women working in newsrooms. They hold training workshops and offer free resources for people seeking information on sexual harassment in the workplace. If you are unable to attend a class, there are websites such as www.globallearningsystems.com or www.workplaceanswers.com. Many of these websites offer free or low-cost, 24/7 access to sexual harassment prevention courses. You can check with your advisor or school to see if your institution offers these classes.

Whether you’re searching for your first internship or you have interned before, knowing your rights is an important factor in ensuring your safety. However, despite the best preparation, harassment and assault still happen. If you know someone that has left the workforce because of a traumatic experience but is interested in trying again, an online internship may be the perfect transition to help them heal enough to begin full-time employment again. To learn more, read Tia Langhout’s article,  “How Virtual Internships May Help Survivors Heal After Sexual Assault or Harassment.”