Teens and On the Job Harassment

As parents our ultimate goal is to raise productive, independent young adults. In doing so, we hope to instill a good work ethic early on in their teen years. We send our teenagers off to begin their first job, teaching them the valuable lesson of hard work, while giving them an opportunity to save up for college or that first car. We expect the work place to be a safe environment for these young adults, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. If your child was harassed while at work would they know how to handle the situation?

As a teenager myself that first job was working for a national fast food chain. I worked hard to be the best employee I could be and in doing so, was given the opportunity for advancement and, with it, more responsibilities. Unfortunately, these accomplishments also put me in a difficult situation.

Part of my new responsibilities required that I open up the restaurant a few times a month. At work the day before this schedule change, I sat alone in the private break room. The supervisor scheduled to open the restaurant with me the following day came in to discuss our tasks for that morning. After which, some very inappropriate comments and sexual advances were made and I was told to arrive half an hour before our scheduled shift, for “some alone time”. Of course, as a young teenager, I sat there in shock, not knowing what to do next. I decided to do what I thought was best – relay the situation on to our boss and the owner of the restaurant, explaining in more detail exactly what had taken place.

The owner discussed the problem with the supervisor and we were put on separate shifts. At the time, I believed this was my only option and feeling uncomfortable when our paths crossed, I left the position soon afterwards. It wasn’t till years later that I learned similar situations had taken place between this same supervisor and additional female teenage employees. The situations were played off due to the Supervisors nationality and situations such as this being “acceptable” (so I was told) in his culture.

As an adult, with children of my own, I now wish I would have taken more action to ensure the Supervisor was held accountable. At the time, I was embarrassed about the whole thing and wanted simply to forget it, not feeling comfortable enough to ask my own parents for help.

According to MSNBC, a study found that one in three teens is a victim of sexual harassment, especially in their first jobs at restaurants and retail stores. Last year, a large burger chain paid out $85,000 to a teenage employee who was subjected to unwanted touching and sexual advances from the store’s general manager in North Carolina. In yet another situation, and again with a competing national burger chain, a settlement was made in the amount of $225,000 after a supervisor subjected five female employees to sexually explicit and graphic remarks about them and their appearance. It’s unfortunate, but situations such as these are fairly common.

What can you do? Talk to your teens before sending them off to work. Let them know they can come to you about any situation which leaves them feeling uncomfortable. They should not feel embarrassed or afraid of losing their job and they need to know that it is illegal for an adult to touch them in any inappropriate manner or to demand sexual favors.

Mary O’Neill, a regional attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, explains that many teenagers never report such behavior because they are unaware of their rights and even embarrassed. However, having the courage to take action, gives fellow coworkers the courage to come forward as well, and will help to put a stop to the harassment.

If your teenager is harassed at work, contact their boss. If the boss is a part of the problem or refuses to acknowledge the situation, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at EEOC.gov. An Advocate for Victims of Abuse can also help your teen to understand his or her rights and help in these difficult situations. We are all responsible for ensuring a safe work environment for our teens and their coworkers!