What Legal Protections Exist for Interns? - The Houston Employment Law Blog

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What Legal Protections Exist for Interns?

If you're an intern currently, do you have any legal protections? Interns have been the subject of a lot of legal controversy lately -- in New York, for example, a federal judge ruled unpaid interns don't have a right to sue for harassment because they're not employees.

This problematic ruling does not necessarily mean that interns don't have any rights. But, some rights are limited or just not addressed under labor laws when it comes to interns. Here's a general overview of what interns in Texas have and don't have rights to.

Interns Under the Federal Law

As far as federal law is concerned, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) -- enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) -- contains the main regulations governing internships. Under these regulations, interns cannot be substituted for regular employees without being paid at least the state or federal minimum wage.

The DOL has included a number of factors that employers can use as guidance when it comes to determining whether or not an intern must be paid, including factors such as whether the intern's duties are meant to replace that of a regular employee's.

If an employer is deriving any kind of benefit from an intern similar to that of a regular employee, it's likely that that intern will need to be paid accordingly. Under federal law, this requires at least the state or federal minimum wage, whichever is higher (Texas' minimum wage is the same as the current federal minimum wage of $7.25).

Interns Under Texas Employment Law

What about interns under Texas law? Texas, according to The Texas Workforce Commission has adopted FLSA's guidelines when it comes to paying interns acting as employees, and the state uses the same six factor test that determines whether or not an intern is classified as an employee for FLSA purposes.

What about possible harassment suits, though? What rights do Texan interns have? Unfortunately, much like New York, sexual harassment protection doesn't extend to unpaid interns in Texas. In fact, as of June, Oregon is the only state to have those protections in place for unpaid interns.

If you're an intern and you have questions about the wages you should or aren't getting paid, or even if you may have a possible harassment claim, make sure you seek out an experienced employment lawyer who can help you sort your case out.

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