Sexual harassment protections expanded to unpaid interns

Amendment to Texas Labor Code gives protections to unpaid interns.

The Texas legislature recently passed an amendment that will affect employers. HB1151 extends sexual harassment protections to unpaid interns. Previous protections were limited to paid employees only, which left unpaid interns without legal recourse if they were sexually harassed in the workplace. The recently passed bill is intended to address that issue and provide a legal remedy for unpaid interns who are sexually harassed.

Changes made to the current law

HB1151 goes into effect September 1, 2015. Under the amendment made to the Labor Code (21.1065 sexual harassment protections for unpaid interns), an employer is liable for committing an unlawful employment practice if an unpaid intern is sexually harassed and the employer knew or should have known of the unlawful behavior and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action (Tex. Lab. Code § 21.1065).

Under the amendment, an individual is considered an unpaid intern if:

  • Training for the internship is educational in nature, although work is performed for the employer;
  • The individual benefits from the internship;
  • The individual does not receive a wage during the internship;
  • The individual is supervised by employees of the employer;
  • The employer does not receive immediate benefit from the internship; and
  • The individual is not entitled to employment when the internship is over.

Sexual harassment protections

The activities that constitute sexual harassment under the amendment are similar to those recognized under Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Namely, sexual harassment may consist of behaviors such as unwelcome sexual advances, unwanted physical contact or verbal requests for sexual favors that create an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or submission to which is made a term or condition of one's internship or is used as a basis for a decision affecting one's internship.

Contact an attorney if you have been harassed

It should be noted that HB1151 will not be applied retroactively. This means an unpaid intern who experiences sexual harassment from actions that take place prior to September 1, 2015 may not have a claim under the new amendment to the Labor Code. If you are a small business or an unpaid intern and have questions about how the new amendment may impact you, contact an attorney at the Fiddler & Associates, P.C. We can help explain the law, discuss your situation, and determine the best course of action to protect your legal rights.