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Labor: EEOC educates teen workers about workplace laws

The Youth@Work initiative teaches young employees how to avoid (and report) discrimination and harassment

Employers who recruit and hire teens should be aware that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is focusing more on young workers. The agency recently issued a press release describing new anti-discrimination and harassment efforts targeted at students who are entering the workforce. Through its Youth@Work initiative, the EEOC has published a video and supplemental guidelines designed to inform students what situations and actions the EEOC considers discrimination or harassment in the workplace.

The video compiles a series of vignettes that purportedly depict typical workplace settings for teens. Each vignette considers various on-the-job interactions and concludes with a discussion aimed at identifying which interactions constituted discrimination and/or harassment. The EEOC also created accompanying classroom guides to accompany the video designed to help students “identify illegal discrimination and harassment.”

The announcement emphasizes the EEOC’s push to educate the young workforce about their rights as employees. As stated by the EEOC, the Youth@Work Initiative was established with the goal of “empowering” young workers. The program’s website contains information and resources on relevant laws and specifically includes guidance on filing a complaint with the agency.

In addition to creating and maintaining these resources, the agency is also focusing on youth employment through its litigation efforts. A case in point is the recent $1 million settlement of a federal lawsuit that the EEOC brought in Wisconsin against the operator of several fast food restaurants. The allegations against the restaurant included sexual harassment and retaliation against several workers, including teenagers. Not only was the employer required to pay the substantial penalty, but it is also subject to training, reporting and monitoring obligations under a consent decree. 

Earlier this year, the EEOC also invited teenagers to its Denver field office to “participate in a dialogue for solutions on how to bridge the gender wage gap in America.” According to the Denver EEOC Field Director, “The EEOC believes that teenagers…represent an unbiased group that may have the ability to solve a problem that has plagued generations.”

Employers that recruit and hire teens should note that the EEOC is placing special focus on this demographic. The EEOC will likely take an aggressive stance toward allegations of discrimination and harassment involving young people who are new to the workforce. The EEOC’s recent announcement is a reminder that employers should emphasize that non-discrimination and non-harassment policies apply to all employees, especially teen workers.

Contributing Author

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John Kuenstler

John F. Kuenstler is a partner in the Chicago office of Barnes & Thornburg LLP and a member of the Labor and Employment Department. Mr....

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