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Unpaid Volunteers and Interns Are Protected From Discrimination and Harassment in California

California's discrimination and harassment law has been expanded to include protections for unpaid volunteers and interns. Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill expanding the protections which are afforded to paid employees to also include unpaid volunteers (see here).

As many employers and employees in California know, it is against the law to discriminate, harass, retaliate or terminate an employee due to his or her race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status. However, the new law provides that these protections are not limited only to paid employees or those who apply for paid employment.

With the enactment of AB 1443, employers are prohibited from discrimination and harassment against any person in the selection, termination, training, or other terms or treatment of that person in an unpaid internship, or another limited duration program to provide unpaid work experience for that person, or in a volunteer position.

This law applies only to employers who regularly employ five or more persons, or any person acting as an agent of an employer. However, religious and non-profit associations or corporations are exempt from this law.

Of course, employers also must be sure that unpaid volunteers lawfully can be used in their business given California's stringent requirements for such arrangements. If the requirements are not met, employers may incur substantial liability and penalties under the Labor Code, especially for minimum wage violations.

If you have any questions about this new law, or any other employment and labor law questions your company may be facing, please feel free to contact us.

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