Lawmakers debate proposed bill to offer sexual harassment protection for unpaid interns


A proposed bill regarding sexual harassment protection for unpaid interns is pending in committee, after a public hearing Tuesday.

Under current state law, unpaid interns are not offered the same sexual harassment protections as paid interns. At the hearing, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), said her bill would create “parity” between paid and unpaid interns.

“Many times college students work in offices and businesses across our state to earn experiences and be able to build resumes, so they will be able to be more valuable…when they go into other jobs in various industries of their interest,” Thompson said. “What I’ve found out is if you have to be an unpaid intern, you lack the same protection of a paid intern.”

Thompson said the goal of the bill is not to encourage the suing of businesses or cost businesses money.

“We’re not trying to cost businesses money,” Thompson said. “We’re trying to protect persons.”

Chair of the committee, Rep. René Oliveira (D-Brownsville) said he is concerned about how the bill would impact the hiring of unpaid interns by businesses and government entities.

“I would hate to do anything that would deter employers…from having these interns because it is such a mutually beneficial arrangement,” Oliveira said.

At the hearing, Vicki Covington, acting director of the Texas Workforce Commission, said if the bill were to pass, the measures in the bill would be applied to the commission's current procedure for investigating sexual assault claims.

“If someone were to contact our office with a complaint and they are an unpaid intern we would simply go through our jurisdiction requirements to include what is actually in the bill, to see if we have jurisdiction,” Covington said. “And we would take that complaint and investigate it in accordance with our current procedure.”