Bank of America Merrill Lynch has announced it will review working conditions for junior employees after the death of a 21-year-old intern last week.
Moritz Erhardt, a Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern, was found dead in his dorm in London. A spokesperson for the London Metropolitan police said the death had been ruled "unsuspicious," and that the medical examiner was expected to release its findings later this week.
However, unconfirmed reports stated that Erhardt had been working through the night in the days before his death.
"We have also convened a formal senior working group to consider the facts as they become known," a spokesman for the Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a statement. "To review all aspects of this tragedy, to listen to employees at all levels and to help us learn from them."
The company will particularly be looking at the working conditions faced by junior employees and interns.
Erhardt, a German student, was finishing his summer internship at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, a competitive seven-week program in which interns often work overtime during their placement, the bank confirmed.
According to the U.K's Independent, an unidentified intern, who lived in the same building as Erhardt, said the German intern had been staying up for days during the last few weeks of the internship.
"He apparently pulled eight all-nighters in two weeks. They get you working crazy hours, and maybe it was just too much for him in the end," the intern told The Independent.
On the financial blog Wallstreetoasis.com one commenter wrote that Erhardt had pulled three all-nighters in a row before he was found unconscious.
A spokesman for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said the company was "shocked and saddened" by Erhardt's death.
"He was popular amongst his peers and was a highly diligent intern at our company with a promising future," McIvor said in a statement. "Our first thoughts are with his family, and we send our condolences to them at this difficult time."
The company had no comment on the unsubstantiated reports that Erhardt had been working multiple nights before he died.
"The thing to reiterate right now, nobody knows what happened and until that is established, I think any conclusion is premature," said Bank of America spokesman John McIvor.
According to experts, working high-pressure jobs with extraordinarily long hours can produce immediate and worrisome health problems.
In the past decade the medical profession, another field in which interns or newly minted doctors face long hours, has started to regulate work schedules. In 2003, medical residents were no longer allowed to work more than 80 hours per week, and in 2011, first-year medical residents could not work shifts that exceeded 16 hours.
"There's research that if someone stays up for 20 to 24 hours, they can be as [impaired] as someone with .01 blood alcohol level," said Dr. Charles Bae at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center.
Without enough sleep people can start to immediately suffer physiological effects, including changes to their insulin levels, testosterone and immune systems.
Dr. Charles Czeisler, the director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, said sleep is a "basic biological need.
"Ultimately sleep is necessary for life," said Czeisler. "Animals that are deprived of sleep die within about three weeks."
While the cause of Erhardt's death has yet to be determined, Czeisler said certain industries, such as finance or medicine that put pressure on junior members to work long nights, risk putting their workers' health in jeopardy.
"If it's true that he was pressured to work for 72 hours straight, it's high time the financial service industry develops a plan to avoid this [kind of] tragedy," said Czeisler.
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- Bank of America Merrill Lynch