H.R.134 - Unpaid Intern Protection Act of 2019

Photo of Congress member Representative Henry Cuellar

To protect unpaid interns from workplace harassment and discrimination.

You might favor this bill if:
►  You believe that workplace harassment and discrimination of unpaid interns, if left unchecked, can have serious consequences on their lives and careers. Ensuring safe and healthy workspaces for unpaid interns must be addressed, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an intern on the basis of race, sex, age or disability.

You might oppose this bill if:
►  You believe that an employer should have the right to treat an intern in whatever way the employer feels is best. An employer should have the right to refuse/reject an intern with a disability even though such an intern is qualified.
Introduced House Senate President Law

The Unpaid Intern Protection Act would make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an intern on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability if such an intern is considered a qualified individual.

This bill defines disability according to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. With the act, Congress found out that:

● Physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, yet many people with physical or mental disabilities have been precluded from doing so because of discrimination; and that
● Society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities and despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem.

According to section 101 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the term qualified means an individual who, with reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment positions that such individual holds or desires.

While both Federal and state statutes provide protections for individuals to be free from harassment and discrimination in the workplace, such statutes only protect the employees of the company, not interns.

What then happens if the individual subjected to harassment is an unpaid intern?

Paid interns are already treated as employees and the federal government prohibits discrimination in the workplace through existing policies. However, unpaid interns are not protected from discrimination and workplace retribution. They are vulnerable because they’re not legally considered employees.

Interns must receive significant remuneration for them to be considered as employees. The key inquiry in determining if someone is an employee for purposes of protections is whether or not the intern was provided with compensation. Compensation in such cases is not limited to monetary considerations.

The bill defines an Intern as “an individual who performs uncompensated voluntary service for an employer, to earn credit awarded by an educational institution or to learn a trade or occupation."

In some states, an unpaid intern can sue an employer who claims the employer failed to hire him or her, failed to grant him or her a favorable training or work opportunity, terminated the internship or made any other decision regarding the terms and conditions of the individuals' internship based on the intern’s protected status.

This bill ensures that a company cannot make any decisions regarding an intern based on that intern’s race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, marital status, disability, military status or sexual orientation.

Unpaid interns would be entitled to reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and of course, the bill ensures that an unpaid intern will be able to sue for sexual or other forms of harassment in the workplace.

The bill prohibits state immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution from an action in a federal court for a violation of this bill.


Sponsored by: Rep. Cummings, Elijah E. [D-MD-7].

Cosponsored by: 0 Rep / 3 Dem.

See list of cosponsors.

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