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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Retaliation because an employee complains about job
discrimination, or assists with a job discrimination
investigation or lawsuit.
Cases Illustrate the Risks Facing
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
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
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
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
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.