Employers urged to heighten awareness of workplace issues affecting youth

Tips from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding youth employment typically focus on summertime work plans, but it's worth a quick review of these issues as we approach the winter holiday season. While the number of teen workers may peak once school lets out for the summer, it also rises during the winter break. Employers who want to bring in teenage workers, however briefly, must be careful to maintain safe, fair, inclusive, and discrimination-free workplaces for those young people, some of whom may be entering the workforce for the first time.

Annually, millions of young people age 16-19 join the U.S. workforce, according to the U.S. Department or Labor.

"[W]e urge employers to heighten their awareness of workplace issues affecting our nation's youth," said former EEOC Chair Cari M. Dominguez. "Proactive prevention is the key to stopping employment discrimination before it starts."

An EEOC representative overseeing the agency's national Youth@Work Initiative says, "Many employers rely on young workers to help manage the busy [times], making such employment a win-win situation. I encourage industries that depend on young workers to be extra vigilant, as youth employment swells. Create an environment in which young workers can learn, develop, and thrive. Our next generation of workers will carry the lessons you share throughout their careers."

The EEOC offers employers the following tips to promote voluntary compliance and prevent harassment and discrimination cases involving young workers:

Encourage open, positive, respectful interactions with young workers.

Remember that awareness, through early education and communication, is the key to prevention.

Establish a strong corporate policy for handling complaints.

Provide alternate avenues for reporting complaints and identify appropriate staff to contact.

Encourage young workers to come forward with concerns and protect employees who report problems or otherwise participate in EEO investigations from retaliation.

Post company policies on discrimination and complaint processing in visible locations, such as near the time clock or in the break area, or include the information in a young worker's first paycheck.

Clearly communicate, update, and reinforce discrimination policies and procedures in a language and manner young workers can understand.

Provide early training to managers and employees, especially front-line supervisors.

Consider hosting an information seminar for the parents or guardians of teens you hire.

Several years ago, the EEOC launched its national Youth@Work Initiative, a comprehensive outreach and education campaign designed to inform teens about their employment rights and responsibilities and help employers create positive first work experiences for young adults.

As part of the Youth@Work Initiative, the EEOC has developed partnerships with business leaders, human resource groups, industry and trade associations, and others to further explore the trends and challenges affecting young people in the 21st century workplace.

In addition to seeking partnerships with the private and public sectors, the two other main components of the EEOC's Youth@Work initiative are (1) a youth website in English and Spanish dedicated to educating young workers about their equal employment opportunity rights and responsibilities; and (2) a series of free national outreach events by EEOC Commissioners and field office staff for high school students, youth organizations, educators, and small businesses who employ young workers.

Connecticut has implemented a parallel initiative at the state level--the Connecticut Young Worker Health & Safety Team--gathering resources and representatives from a wide range of organizations whose mission is to offer professional development, resources, data, and events focused on preparing youth and the adults working with them to better navigate the world of work.