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Interns without job protections in Michigan and across U.S.

Employment laws protecting Oakland County workers from illegal employer practices don't apply to unpaid interns. Only about half a dozen states specifically shield unpaid employees from sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation. Michigan isn't one of them although, according to a January 2015 report in the Lansing State Journal, that soon could change.

Federal and state laws cover plenty of territory about workers' rights but interns fall through the statutes' cracks. Under the Civil Rights Act, unpaid interns lack the remuneration necessary to be worthy of protection. Some states have closed the legal loophole by updating employment laws, but most have no intern-specific laws or continue to debate how to amend legislation.

An intern protection bill is expected to be reintroduced in Michigan this year, after a similar measure failed to clear a lame duck legislative session in 2014. If passed, the legislation would amend the Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Act to forbid on-the-job harassment of uncompensated employees.

Under present state laws, unpaid interns have no legal recourse when confronted with inappropriate behavior at work, like offensive sexual comments or unwanted sexual advances by employers or co-workers. To make things worse, companies also aren't accountable for taking retaliatory actions against interns who file harassment or discrimination complaints.

Paid employees are protected from employer retaliation that can take the form of a demotion, a negative change in work hours or pay or a failure to promote or wrongful termination. Michigan employers currently are free to take any of these actions against unpaid interns. The lack of workplace protection affects a significant number of higher education graduates, about 66 percent of those that hold internships -- approximately half of those are unpaid positions largely held by women.

Interns and others who experience or believe they've been subjected to sexual harassment don't have to remain silent. An employment attorney is willing to listen and advise a course of action.

Source: Huffington Post, "A Shocking Number Of States Don't Protect Unpaid Interns From Discrimination And Sexual Harassment," Samantha Lachman, May 27, 2015

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