New Oregon Law Extends Workplace Protections to Interns

New Oregon Law Extends Workplace Protections to Interns

 You may have heard the old saw that interns built the pyramids. Well, the Oregon legislature appears to have heard it, too, and now has extended workplace protections to these unpaid denizens of the workforce. On June 5, 2013, the legislature passed House Bill 2669. The Governor has indicated that he will sign the bill into law. When he does so, the new law will be effective immediately and will require that interns be "considered to be in an employment relationship with an employer" for purposes of Oregon's employee protections against certain unlawful employment practices including the following:

  • sexual harassment
  • discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age
  • discrimination based on service in the uniformed services
  • disability discrimination and impermissible medical inquiries or examinations
  • whistleblower retaliation
  • requiring breathalyzer, polygraph, psychological stress or brain-wave test
  • obtaining or using genetic information
  • discrimination based on tobacco use during non-work hours

Similar to the definition of intern under Oregon's wage and hour laws, HB 2669 defines an intern as follows:

A person who performs work for an employer for the purpose of training if:

  • The employer is not committed to hire the person performing the work at the conclusion of the training period
  • The employer and the person performing the work agree in writing that the person performing the work is not entitled to wages for the work performed, AND
  • The work performed:
    • Supplements training given in an educational environment that may enhance the employability of the intern
    • Provides experience for the benefit of the person performing the work
    • Does not displace regular employees
    • Is performed under the close supervision of existing staff, AND
    • Provides no immediate advantage to the employer providing the training and may occasionally impede the operations of the employer.

Previously, interns did not have a legal right to bring claims of employment discrimination or retaliation. Nor did the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries have authority to investigate workplace complaints brought by interns. HB 2669 changes that landscape. Interns will now be entitled to have those complaints heard just as any other employee would. HB 2669 does not, however, extend all employment protections to interns. For example, employee protections for violations of wage and hour, occupational safety and health, worker's compensation, and unemployment insurance laws remain unchanged by the statute. Additionally, interns are not eligible for Oregon Family Leave.

For employers, in theory, compliance with the law will simply require that they revise their existing policies against discrimination, retaliation or harassment of employees to cover interns. However, in practice, the new law exposes employers to additional risk when hiring an intern and companies hiring interns should review whether a discrimination lawsuit by an intern will be covered by existing Employment Practices Liability insurance policies.

Read more alerts by Barran Liebman attorneys.

Electronic Alerts are written by Barran Liebman attorneys for their clients and friends. Alerts are not intended as legal advice, but as employment law, labor law, and employee benefits announcements.

For more information about LexisNexis products and solutions connect with us through our corporate site.