Question:

I own a local retail store that caters
to the tourist industry. I’m anticipating an increase in business
during the summer and am considering hiring some young people to work
for me while they’re on summer vacation from school. Is there anything
particular I need to know about employing teenagers?

Answer:

You’re not alone in your desire to employ young people for the
summer. The good news is that this time of year is the perfect opportunity
to bring teenagers into your business. According to the Department of
Labor, more than 7 million young people between the ages of 16 and 19
joined the workforce at the height of the summer in 2005, and this year
is expected to be no different. However, it is important for employers
such as yourself to be extra vigilant over the next several months, and
to ensure that your young employees are provided with a safe and appropriate
work environment.

In September of 2004, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
launched its nationwide Youth@Work Initiative, a comprehensive outreach
and educational campaign that is designed to educate teenagers about
their rights and responsibilities as employees. The program is also geared
toward helping employers create positive first work experiences for young
people.
The Youth@Work Initiative was created partially in response to the growing
number of claims being filed with the EEOC by young workers. Since the fall
of 2000, the EEOC has filed over 100 lawsuits on behalf of teens alleging employment
discrimination. Most of these claims involve sexual harassment, though others
have included disability and race discrimination. Many of these cases have
ended in settlements requiring the employers to pay thousands of dollars to
the young workers, and requiring that the employers provide extensive anti-harassment/discrimination
training for their management staff.

In light of the foregoing, the EEOC has issued the following tips for
employers to promote compliance with applicable laws, and to help prevent
harassment and discrimination cases involving young workers:

  • Encourage open, positive, respectful interactions with young employees.
  • Establish a strong policy for handling complaints.
  • Provide alternate avenues to report complaints, and identify the
    appropriate individuals to contact if there is a problem.
  • Encourage young workers to come forward with concerns, and be sure
    to protect employees who report problems or otherwise participate in
    EEOC investigations.
  • Post company policies on discrimination and complaint processing
    in visible locations (e.g., in the break area), and/or include the
    information with your young workers’ first paychecks.
  • Clearly communicate your business’s harassment and discrimination
    policies in a way that young workers can understand.
  • Provide early training to managers and employees.
  • Consider hosting an informative seminar for the parents of young
    people working for you.

Assuming that you have a comprehensive anti-harassment /discrimination
policy in place for your business, many of the EEOC’s tips will
already have been addressed by your existing policy. However, it is important
to be aware of any issues regarding your young employees that might not
otherwise arise in the regular course of your business.

Employing young people for the summer can be a win/win situation for
everyone involved. Your business benefits from the work being performed,
and your young employees are introduced to the workplace in a way that
allows them to learn and develop their job skills while earning extra
money. Employers simply need to be aware of the potential for issues
involving their young employees, and to be sensitive to any special situations
that might arise.
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