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 The EEOC Is Helping
 Teen Employees Fight Back

The approaching summer means teenage employment will rise at many workplaces. More working teenagers means an increase in potential risks for employers...especially the risk of illegal harassment and other illegal treatment.

If your organization employs teenagers, don't cut corners when complying with employee-protection laws just because the employees are young.

It's Not Just About Harassment

     The risks of managing and supervising teenage employees don't just involve illegal harassment. Some employers break the law by not paying young employees overtime, believing they are too uninformed or passive to complain. Some employers work young people longer hours in a day or a week than laws regulating teen work hours permit.
Pediatrics magazine recently published a study that found many teens are exposed to workplace hazards on a regular basis. The study, titled "Work-Related Hazards and Workplace Safety of U.S. Adolescents Employed in the Retail and Service Sectors," is based on survey responses from 928 teenage employees between the ages of 14 and 18.
    It reported teens are exposed to multiple workplace hazards and work long hours during the school year. In fact, 37 percent of those under age 16 said they worked after 7 p.m. on a school night, which is a violation of federal law.
   Other findings: A high percentage of teens age 17 and younger used dangerous equipment at work, such as slicers, dough mixers, box crushers, and paper balers...or served or sold alcohol in places where it is consumed. These are violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
In addition, 52 percent of young male and 43 percent of young female employees said they engaged in one or more prohibited activities.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is seeing more harassment complaints filed by young people and is actively informing working teens about their rights. The agency has a Web site called "Youth at Work," which gives examples of illegal behavior and tells teens how to file complaints against employers.

The "Welcome" on the site states: "This was created for young people, and by young people, to explain the types of job discrimination that young workers may encounter and to suggest strategies you can use to help prevent such discrimination."

The site, located at http://www.youth.eeoc.gov/, explains to teenagers that they are protected against employment discrimination when it involves:

  • Unfair treatment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability.
  • Harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in the workplace because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability.
  • Denial of a reasonable workplace change that an employee needs because of his or her religious beliefs or disability.
  • Retaliation because an employee complains about job discrimination, or assists with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
  • Cases Illustrate the Risks Facing Employers

     Sexual harassment at a fast-food restaurant -- Earlier this year, the EEOC settled its lawsuit against GLC Restaurants for $550,000 on behalf of eight female teenage employees who worked part time. The case involved alleged sexual harassment of the teens by a middle-aged male supervisor, including unwanted touching and lewd comments. GLC is a franchisee doing business as McDonald's Restaurants in Arizona and California.

    The EEOC maintained the male supervisor was a repeat offender who subjected the teens to a sexually hostile workplace. The company knew of the manager's earlier harassment of teen female employees, according to the EEOC, but it failed to take appropriate action to prevent him from repeating the unlawful behavior. Some of the employees were only 14-years-old at the time.

    In addition to paying $550,000 to the eight teens, the EEOC settlement by consent decree requires GLC to provide training and other relief aimed at educating employees about sexual harassment and their legal rights. The private attorney for four of the teens is also applying to the court for an award of attorney fees up to $400,000.

     Managers and salesmen harass female teens at a basement waterproofing company. Another example of costly harassment is the jury award of $585,000 to 13 young women, mostly teenagers still in high school, in an EEOC lawsuit filed against Everdry Marketing and Management Inc. and Everdry Management Services Inc., The lawsuit charged the company, which waterproofs residential basements nationwide, with sexually harassing the young female employees at the firm's Rochester, NY, location.

    The harassment took place over four years in the form of egregious acts of verbal and physical sexual conduct by the firm's managers and salesmen, according to the EEOC. The company failed to take necessary steps to stop the behavior, witnesses testified, despite complaints to local and national management. The EEOC asserted the work conditions were so intolerable that some female employees were forced to quit.

    After a two-week trial ending in October 2006, the federal district court jury awarded $325,000 to the women to compensate them for lost wages and emotional pain and suffering. In addition, punitive damages against the company were assessed in the amount of $260,000.

     Young men working at a movie theater chain are harassed by male boss. Carmike Cinemas, Inc. paid $765,000 in 2005 to resolve an employment discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC that involved a group of 14 young men who were sexually harassed by their male supervisor. The harassment included unwelcome sexual touching, comments and advances at one of the company's theaters in Raleigh, NC, by the supervisor, who was a convicted sex offender.

    "Employers must heighten their awareness of harassment of teenage workers - one of the most vulnerable segments of the labor force - and actively take steps to prevent it," said Reuben Daniels, Jr., Director of the EEOC's Charlotte District Office.

    Smart moves: Employers have a duty to inform and train managers, supervisors and team leaders about employee rights and the responsibilities leaders have to assure the rights are protected. Ask supervisors to read the information on the EEOC's Youth at Work Web site.

    In addition, consider these tips from the EEOC to help promote voluntary compliance and prevent harassment and discrimination cases:

    • Encourage open, positive and respectful interactions with young employees.
    • Remember that awareness, through early education and communication, is the key to prevention.
    • Establish a strong corporate policy for handling complaints.
    • Provide alternate avenues to report complaints and identify appropriate staff to contact.
    • Encourage young employees to come forward with concerns and protect staff members who report problems or otherwise participate in investigations from retaliation.
    • Post company policies on discrimination and complaint processing in visible locations, such as near the time clock or break area, or include the information in young employees' first paychecks.
    • Clearly communicate, update, and reinforce discrimination policies and procedures in a language and manner young staff members can understand.
    • Provide early training to managers and employees, especially front-line supervisors.
    • Consider hosting an information seminar for parents or guardians of teens working for the organization.

    Virtualex.com Ronald J. Cappuccio, J.D., LL.M.(Tax) 1800 Chapel Avenue West Suite 128 Cherry Hill, NJ 08002 Phone:(856) 665-2121      Fax: (856) 665-9005 Email: ron@taxesq.com
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