Vacca bill passed by City Council protects interns

Interns are people too.

That’s the message the City Council sent when it voted unanimously in favor of a Bronx councilman’s bill that legally protects interns from discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

The bill, sponsored by Councilmember Jimmy Vacca, amends the NYC Human Rights Law to specifically provide interns with the same workplace protections against discrimination and harassment as employees.

“Every worker – paid and unpaid – should have the right to do their job in a harassment-free environment,” Vacca said in a statement. “I am proud to sponsor this legislation, which will give a voice to all interns who are subjected to discrimination.”

Closing loophole

Vacca said that previously, city law did not specifically apply to interns and was open to interpretation. He said he began working to close the loophole when he became aware of a case where an intern was unable to sue her employer for harassment because of the law’s ambiguity.

Vacca said he was glad his fellow council members recognized the need for specific legal protection of both paid and unpaid interns.

“I think my colleagues saw we had a hole so big a truck could drive through it,” Vacca said of the unanimous vote.

Vacca said he wants interns to know that they have legal protection from all types of discrimination and harassment.

Into 21st Century

“A workplace free of discrimination and harassment is the right of every person, be it an employee or an intern,” Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres said in a statement. “Council Member Vacca’s legislation is simply bringing Human Rights Law into the 21st century.”

Eugene Sohn, the chief diversity officer at Hostos Community College, agreed the bill was important and necessary to protect the rights of interns and ensure they are respected and safe. “When you’re entering in to a work environment, you should be protected, and not denied that because of a technical definition,” said Sohn.

He pointed out that interns are often younger than the average worker and inexperienced, and that they should especially be protected in their place of employment.

“With less experience comes more vulnerability,” Sohn said.

As of press time, the bill was awaiting the mayors signature in order to become local law.

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at (718) 742–3383. E-mail her at jwilliams@cnglocal.com.

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