Question:

I employ a number of high school students over the Christmas holidays. This morning on the news I saw an article on a program to protect minors from sexual harassment and discrimination. Can you tell me more about that program and whether or not it affects my business or me?

Answer:

The program you heard referenced on the news today is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Youth at Work Initiative. This program is dedicated to educating young workers about their equal employment opportunity rights and responsibilities. Its goal is to proactively prevent discrimination against teenage workers. The Vice-Chair of the EEOC, Naomi C. Earp, stated, “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 shall carry their knowledge of employment laws with them throughout their careers, effectively expanding the potential for equal opportunities.” The program probably does not directly affect your business except, to the extent that your business is covered by any of the laws enforced by the EEOC, an effort will be made to educate your workforce about their rights and responsibilities.

One component of this initiative is the Youth at Work website http://youth.eeoc.gov/. This site explains the different types of discrimination that young workers may encounter, their rights and responsibilities as employees, and describes some real EEOC cases involving young workers. According to the EEOC the laws enforced by the EEOC provide five basic rights for job applicants and employees who work in the United States. If young workers work for employers covered by the laws enforced by the EEOC, they have the following rights (1) the right to work free of discrimination, (2) the right to work free of harassment, (3) the right to complain about job discrimination without punishment, (4) the right to request workplace changes for their religion or disability, and (5) the right to keep their medical information private.

The EEOC also indicates that these young workers have three basic guidelines or responsibilities that they need to live up to as employees. These responsibilities are (1) to not discriminate, (2) to report discrimination, and (3) to request workplace changes as needed because of a religious belief or medical condition.

The website provides links to some recent EEOC cases involving teen workers. These include a case wherein teenage girls claimed that a manager had sexually harassed them at a California bagel shop and another California case wherein three teenage employees reported sexual harassment at a California golf club. Finally the website contains information on how to file an EEOC complaint and an interactive test young workers can take to test their knowledge regarding their rights and responsibilities with respect to discrimination and harassment issues.
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