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Monday, January 10, 2011

Unpaid Interns Unite! State Looks at Workplace Law to Protect Interns, Volunteers

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Mon, Jan 10, 2011 at 10:58 AM

The Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) will pitch fourteen new bills looking at rules and rights in workplaces will be pitched at the state legislature in Salem this year.

BOLI is the part of state government responsible for investigating whether businesses are treating their employees legally and fairly. They announced their legislative agenda last week. Their top priority in Salem this year will be backing House Bill 2033, which would restore career and technical education to middle and high schools in Oregon.

But another bill they're backing would extend workplace protections against discrimination and harassment to interns and volunteers (House Bill 2862). Right now, even interns and volunteers who work their butts off at a business aren't covered by the state's employee protection laws. If they're poorly treated, they have few options for holding their non-employer accountable.

This is a pretty big loophole in Oregon law that became glaring this fall in the case of Seth Stambaugh, the Beaverton student teacher who was kicked out of the district after telling a student that he would prefer to marry a man. Because Stambaugh was a student teacher—technically a volunteer rather than a staffer—he did not have the protection of the state's civil rights laws that guarantee nondiscrimination in a workplace, so the district was able to let him go without going through much (if any) process. Stambaugh was eventually reinstated, but only after he got a lawyer.

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