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Summertime, and the Working Isn't Easy

Workplace Fairness®

Young Workers: A Summer of Adult–Sized Problems

The summer season is important for young workers because it often provides them with their first and only opportunity to work. Last summer alone, 2.7 million young people entered the workforce, bringing the total number of young people in our workforce to 21.7 million.

The dangers facing young workers include not only physical injuries, but also harassment and discrimination. Additionally, young workers are often required or pressured to work hours or jobs they are prohibited by law from working. There are several reasons why young workers are more vulnerable to workplace dangers.

Much of their vulnerability comes from inexperience and lack of proper training. Many young people work only seasonally, or on a part–time basis. Limited or seasonal employment often doesn't leave the employer a lot of time to properly train the young worker in safety procedures and harassment policies. Additionally, young workers who do not yet know what is and is not acceptable social behavior at work often fail to recognize and report workplace harassment. Finally, many young people don't know what to do if they think something is wrong, whether it be a potential safety hazard or the harassing behavior of a supervisor. Many young workers also fail to report these hazards for fear of losing their jobs.

Teens and Employers Taking Risks

It's no surprise that teenagers sometimes engage in risky behavior, or that they don't always follow the rules. This is precisely why proper safety training for teenagers is so important, even if they are only seasonal or part–time employees.

Every year in the United States, 70 adolescents die from work injuries. Two hundred thousand teens are injured on the job, half seriously enough to require hospital treatment!

Recognizing the need to protect young workers, federal and state governments have passed laws which regulate young workers. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal law which regulates child labor. The FLSA prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from working a job which is considered hazardous. Hazardous jobs include those which require baking, mining, roofing, logging, demolition, operation of a motor vehicle, and many others.

There are also additional restrictions for younger workers. Those between the ages of 14 and 16 may work limited hours which do not interfere with their education. The FLSA regulates the number of hours they may work, including the earliest and latest they work, depending on the season.

Generally, children under the age of 14 are not permitted to work, but certain industries are exempt from these laws. For example, a child of any age may work delivering newspapers or performing as an actor. A child under 14 may also work a job where no employee/employer relationship is formed, such as babysitting, or doing chores and housework for a private home. Also, the agriculture industry has less restrictive regulations on child workers, allowing children as young as 12 to work on family farms, despite their known hazards.

State laws are often more restrictive than federal law. Many states also require that young workers receive a work permit or age certification, either from their school district or labor department. The Department of Labor features an easy to read state–by–state summary of child labor laws at its YouthRules website.

What you can do:

Whether you are a young worker, a concerned parent or an employer, education is the best way to prevent further injuries and make the workplace safer for young workers. Check out these sites for more information and helpful tips on making sure teens have a safe and productive summer:

  • Youth Rules
    the Department of Labor site dedicated to assisting young workers.
  • OSHA
    OSHA's site dedicated to teen safety in the workplace.
    the California Resource Network for Young Worker Health and Safety.
  • Child Labor Standards
    Workplace Fairness page on child labor standards.

Teens and Harassment: Just Horsing Around, or Serious Business?

Since teen workers are usually significantly younger and more inexperienced than their fellow workers or supervisors, they are often targets of illegal discrimination and harassment. According to EEOC Chair Cari M. Dominguez, "Discrimination happens to employees of all ages, but offenders sometimes single out teen workers because they think they won't know any better." Adding to the problem is that teen workers often don't know that they are being harassed or that is it illegal, and don't know what they should do about it. Even if young workers do know they are being harassed, many don't report it because they think it could cost them their jobs.

Many young people don't understand that harassment and discrimination laws apply equally to all workers, regardless of whether the worker is seasonal, part–time or under the age of 18. Recognizing the need to educate young workers about their rights and responsibilities on the job, the EEOC launched the "[email protected]" campaign to do just that. Speaking of the campaign, EEOC Vice Chair Naomi C. Earp said, "Our goal is to empower these young workers as they enter and navigate the professional world so that they are confident in their rights and responsibilities at work. By way of this effort, our nation's youth will carry their knowledge of employment laws with them throughout their careers, effectively expanding the potential for equal opportunities."

The campaign focuses primarily on educating young workers and the community about the rights of young people. The EEOC has launched a series of national outreach events for high school students, youth organizations, and small businesses who employ young workers. It has also formed partnerships with business leaders, human resource groups, and industry trade associations.

Mary Jo O'Neill, an EEOC attorney, says, "Federal law protects workers, including teens, against sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination. Employers who provide after–school or weekend job opportunities for young workers have a responsibility to abide by the law and provide a work environment free of harassment. Young workers need to know they do not have to put up with any type of discrimination period in order to attain or retain gainful employment."

In addition to educating, the EEOC has not been afraid to litigate on behalf of young workers when necessary, and has been successful in many of its cases. EEOC Vice Chair Naomi C. Earp said, "....while the Commission strives to proactively prevent discrimination through education and outreach as a first resort, we will not hesitate to use our litigation tools when necessary." Employers who do not take sexual harassment seriously—especially when teen workers are the target—may face the heat of a high–profile lawsuit.

What you can do:

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