Illinois Is Now One of the Only States Protecting Interns From Sexual Harassment

Democratic Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois makes remarks during a "Growth and Jobs in America" discussion at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, February 23, 2014.
Democratic Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois makes remarks during a "Growth and Jobs in America" discussion at the National Governors Association’s Winter Meeting in Washington on February 23, 2014. Mike Theiler/Reuters

Illinois has become one of the only states to pass legislation protecting unpaid interns from sexual harassment in the workplace.

A new bill, signed into law last week by Governor Patrick Quinn, amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to include "unpaid intern" in its definition of an "employee." That gives unpaid workers legal recourse to file suit in instances of sexual harassment or discrimination—a right they could otherwise be legally denied in favor of paid employees.

"Because unpaid internships are a widespread form of employment for young professionals, it is bewildering to think that laws in Illinois do not protect the unpaid intern," wrote state Representative Maria A. Berrios in a statement provided to Newsweek. "Every person has the right to feel safe and secure in their workplace, and with this new law, unpaid interns will have the same protections as other employees to seek justice in cases of sexual harassment."

The bill's sponsor, state Senator Iris Martinez, added that interns can be especially vulnerable to harassment, given their relative youth and low ranking in office environments.

The loophole came to national attention after a 2013 lawsuit was thrown out of court when a New York City judge found that an intern alleging sexual harassment was not protected by the city's workplace discrimination protections. In April, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an amendment clarifying that interns "are guaranteed the full protections guaranteed to employees under the human rights law," and in July, New York state followed suit.

But most states still don't have laws on the books extending protections to interns, making Illinois one of the first in the nation, along with Oregon and Washington, D.C.

Illinois Is Now One of the Only States Protecting Interns From Sexual Harassment | U.S.