SAN FRANCISCO (NYT) -- As a new sex scandal surrounds President Clinton, it has become clear that ethical and legal guidelines for college interns and employees in the workplace are not as clear as they should be.
As with any employee, students and interns who work at corporations, government agencies and other organizations are covered by federal and state sexual harassment laws.
"They're subject to all of the same protections against unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace," said Peter Rutter, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley Medical School and the author of Understanding and Preventing Sexual Harassment: The Complete Guide. But what about romance? Outside the reach of workplace laws, should college interns and employees be allowed to engage in potentially disruptive sexual relations -- especially if the employee holds power over the younger person? Mandy Weltman, internship coordinator at the Bay Guardian newspaper in San Francisco, said sexual harassment guidelines apply equally to interns and staff members. But in consensual relations, interns are free to see anyone. "We don't dictate who our people can or cannot date," Weltman said. Labor Department officials also are wrestling with the delicate issue. Young interns often find themselves exploited, underpaid and sexually harassed by unscrupulous bosses. Unfortunately, many fall between the cracks and aren't protected by Labor Department regulations if they aren't paid employees and are given only academic credit for their work. If interns are paid salaries or hourly wages, they're covered by Labor Department policies. "It's tough for us to talk about interns in general," said a Labor Department spokesman who asked not to be named. "Some are paid, some not paid. Some work full-time, some part-time. Their situations are very different." Universities and colleges that place student interns in corporations, government agencies and other workplaces typically don't have common policies or ethical standards to guide employers. "Obviously we're concerned about these issues," said UC-Berkeley spokesman Jesus Mena, "but we don't have one set of guidelines for all the different internship programs. …