Unpaid Interns: Don’t Fear Retaliation

Few know that there are powerful laws that protect people who assert their right to get paid for their illegally unpaid internships.

Federal law protects employees from retaliation when they ask to get paid for their illegally unpaid internship. It is a violation of federal law for any employer to retaliate against an employee by discharging or in any other manner discriminating against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint, caused to be instituted any proceeding, or testified about a perceived violation.

Employees are protected regardless of whether the complaint is made orally or in writing.?Employers that discriminate or retaliate against an employee who files an FLSA complaint or participates in resulting proceedings are liable for fines, damages, attorney’s fees and, in the case of willful violations, liquidated damages (an amount equal to the improperly withheld wages).

In addition to federal protections, many states have additional more comprehensive protections against retaliation.

Under New York law, for example, no employer can discharge, threaten, penalize, or in any other manner discriminate or retaliate against any employee because an employee has made a complaint to his or her employer that the employer has engaged in conduct that the employee reasonably believes violates New York labor laws. If an employer does retaliate a judge may order all appropriate relief, including ordering payment of liquidated damages, costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to the employee. Liquidated damages can be as much as $10,000.?The court can also order reinstatement of the employee to his or her former position or an award of front pay in lieu of reinstatement.

The US Department of Labors fact sheet on prohibited?retaliation?can be found at?www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs77a.pdf

The NY Department of Labors fact sheets about prohibited retaliation can be found at?www.labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/wp/P715.pdf and www.labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/wp/P706.pdf.