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Illinois Human Rights Act to Cover Sexual Harassment of Unpaid Interns

October 2014

By: Ryan L. Young, Esq.

Governor Quinn recently signed a bill that will amend the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) to protect unpaid interns from sexual harassment. As you may recall, the IHRA expansively covers employers with one or more employees (in general, employees with 15 or more employees are covered by the IHRA).

Effective January 1, 2015, the amendment will extend sexual harassment protection to "unpaid interns", which the IHRA defines as a person who: 1) performs work for an employer with no promise of employment following the internship and 2) has an agreement with the employer that the intern is not entitled to wages for the work he/she performs for the employer.

But that's not all. The work performed by the unpaid intern must meet additional requirements including:

1) Supplements training given in an educational environment that may enhance the intern's employability;

2) Provides experience that benefits the intern;

3) Does not displace the employer's employees;

4) Is closely supervised by the employer; and

5) Provides no immediate advantage to the employer and may occasionally impede the employer's operations.

Illinois' extension of workplace laws to unpaid interns may be signaling a trend in such legislation. Oregon and New York have enacted similar legislation, as have Washington D.C. and New York City. The issue of unpaid interns in the employment law context has been a hot topic due in large part to the media coverage surrounding a number of wage and hour lawsuits recently filed by unpaid interns.

In light of the new law, Illinois employers would be wise to review their harassment policies before the law's effective date to ensure that they cover unpaid interns and to communicate the policy's coverage to both their unpaid interns and their regular employees. Employers should also provide unpaid interns with a copy of the harassment policy and complaint procedure at the beginning of the internship.

If you have any questions or concerns about this topic, please call Ryan Young of Wessels Sherman's Chicago, Illinois office at (312) 629-9300 or via email at  ryyoung@wesselssherman.com.