Protect Young Employees From Harassment

How can you ensure that teens you employ are protected against sexual harassment, abusive environments and age discrimination?

Bob Gregg, a partner in Boardman Law Firm, shares his roundup of diversity-related legal issues. He can be reached at rgregg@boardmanlawfirm.com.


The child-labor duties and hour restrictions are not the only concerns regarding employment of teenagers. There are a growing number of cases involving sexual harassment and other abusive-environment issues. Teens are among the most vulnerable, most likely people to be harassed or abused in the workplace. Yet, because they are often part-time, low-wage, short-term employees, they too often receive the least attention, the least information and, unfortunately, the least concern when they try (sometimes naively, without knowing the right process or even the right terms) to express concerns.

Employers who hire teens have a special duty of care to actually pay more attention and devote more concern than is given to adult employees. The following cases are illustrative. (For more information, see Child Labor Duty of Care at Child Labor Articles.)

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Wisconsin new state-budget bill eliminates child-labor hour restrictions. The Wisconsin legislature has eliminated hour restrictions for 16- and 17-year-old employees in private-sector jobs. The old restrictions limited them to working only six days a week or 50 hours during non-school weeks and 26 hours during the school year, and a guarantee of eight hours of sleep before the school day began. The legislature has removed those limits, and teenagers can now work adult hours seven days a week, double shifts or more. There is still a restriction on working during school hours; however, a teen can work night shifts as long as he or she is released in time to get to school. Most restrictions remain in place for those under age 16 during the school year to permit a 40-hour work week during the summer and other weeks with no school. The provisions were added to the budget bill and passed without any public hearing. The legislators have not explained how this provision was relevant to the state budget. The sponsors have stated that this is intended to bring the state closer to federal child-labor rules.

Court disagrees with Department of Labor (DOL)'s internship guidelines. In 2010, the Department of Labor issued a six-factor test for determining whether student interns were truly "interns" who could work without pay or were employees entitled to at least minimum wage and overtime. In Solils v. Laurelbrook Sanitarium and School, Inc. (6th Cir., 2011), a federal appeals court rejected the DOL's six factors, finding them "not helpful." It simplified the issue into a one-part balance of whether the "primary benefit" of the work is for the organization's operational needs or for the student's/intern's learning and development. In this case, it found that the work was for the student workers' education and development.

Restaurant must post "guilty notice" in spite of appeal. A restaurant chain lost a case over sexual harassment of teenage employees by an adult male manager. In addition to monetary damages, the court ordered that notices be conspicuously posted in all of the chain's 20 restaurants, informing all employees of the jury verdict and the penalties for sexual harassment. The company appealed the jury verdict and sought an injunction against posting the notices while the appeal was pending. The court declined. It found no irreparable harm and ordered the notices to be posted, plus a $1,000-per-day fine for each day of non-compliance. EEOC v. Management Hospitality of Racine, Inc. (E.D. Wis., 2011)

Donut shops settle case of sexual harassment of teen employees. The owners of a chain of Dunkin Donut franchises entered a settlement and six-year consent order. The franchise company denied any wrongdoing. The case alleged that a male manager at one of the stores engaged in harassment of female employees, including teenagers, grabbing, rubbing and attempted kissing and describing sexual acts he wanted. The company management allegedly received complaints but took no action until employees reported the matter to local police and the manager was arrested. The settlement includes:

•         $290,000 to be divided among eight former employees

•         Posting of notices about the settlement in all 14 of the company's franchise operations

•         Sexual-harassment training for all employees in all stores every two years

•         The company must give every employee and new hire a wallet-sized card on how to file discrimination complaints with the company.

EEOC v. College View Donuts, LCC (N.D. NY, 2011)

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