I interned this summer in a downtown Anchorage office. Ahead of time, I was excited about the opportunity. The chair of my department, the man who will grade my thesis in the fall, has been a friend of the managing partner since college days, which is why I landed this premier internship.
I learned a lot: how to dodge the senior partner’s wandering hands, put up with comments about perky breasts, and work on projects despite daily humiliation. I’m now back in school, and asked to report on the internship.
What do I do? If I tell the truth, I fear what will happen to my thesis. I’ve been told interns have no rights. Is that true?
You can potentially strike a balance by writing a sanitized report outlining the technical aspects of your education, and noting that you’ve chosen not to cover the internship’s interpersonal dynamics.
This may, of course, pique your department chair’s interest, leaving you at the same crossroads. Do you lie by omission? In addition to what this does to your self-respect, how will you feel if next year’s intern lacks your ability to evade the managing partner, who has potentially grown bolder by another year of escaping detection?
Or do you take a risk? Your department chair may have no clue how his friend treats females. If your department chair asks questions, you can respectfully let him know the male/female situation required deft navigation. If you sense he views you as credible, tell him the truth, that the sexual harassment you experienced made this internship at best a mixed blessing.
As you’ve heard, the anti-discrimination protections that cover employees don’t always extend to volunteers or interns. You may, however, have recourse in Alaska or the state where you’re attending school. For example, in June of 2015, the Connecticut legislature extended workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation protection to unpaid interns. You can explore this situation by calling the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission or the Alaska Human Rights Commission.
According to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, anti-discrimination protection may cover interns if the intern receives “significant remuneration,” which could include access to professional certification or benefits from a third party — such as your educational institution. Other factors that weigh in favor of you attaining employee coverage as an intern include whether you performed work that was part of the employer’s regular business and whether the employer controlled when, where and how you performed your work. You can also check out whether you qualify for employee protection by calling the Department of Labor and asking if your summer program truly qualifies as an internship or if you were actually a de facto employee.
Finally, don’t assume your department chair will side with his friend; he may instead be disgusted by the behavior you describe.
© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.