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Teen Employees Often Do Not Understand Their Right Not To Be Harassed

By Samuel Cordes

The parents of Pittsburg area teens are rightly concerned about the dangers posed by sexual predators on the Internet. Some parents even monitor their teens’ online activities. However, as noted in an article in Good Housekeeping magazine, teens who have jobs are, in reality, “far more likely to encounter a predator on the job” than on the Internet. While it is unclear how widespread the problem is, one study indicates that 46 percent of teenage girls who worked were victims of harassment that was sexual in nature. A spokesperson for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was quoted as saying that the EEOC was seeing an increase in cases involving the harassment of teenage workers.

Teenagers frequently find employment in the restaurant industry. Recently, the Daily Beast reported on a new study that concluded that restaurants tended to be veritable “petri dishes for inappropriate behavior.” According to the study discussed in the article, three-quarters of women in the restaurant industry complained of sexual harassment from coworkers while two-thirds reported harassment from supervisors. Men were also subject to significant sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.

According to the Daily Beast article, the high level of harassment is troubling in light of the large number of teenagers and young people employed in the restaurant industry and for whom this “highly sexualized environment is their first exposure to the working world.” Humiliation, social pressure, fears of not being believed and retribution are all reasons that more people do not come forward with complaints about sexual harassment. An NBC News report adds that young people often do not complain about sexual harassment since many do not understand their legal right to be free from harassment in the workplace.

The pervasive sexual harassment problem in the restaurant industry is underscored by an EEOC press release earlier this year, which reported that a restaurant in Pennsylvania had agreed to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit involving a co-owner’s pervasive harassment of female employees. According to the EEOC, the co-owner frequently made offensive comments to female employees regarding crude or sexual matters and also touched them in a sexual manner.

Dealing with harassment

An article on sexual harassment published by Brandeis University offers some tips on how teen employees and their parents can deal with workplace sexual harassment. If you suspect your teen is being harassed on the job, you should:

  • Talk with his/her manager. If that person refuses to take the situation seriously, go up the chain of command or talk to the human resources department. Make sure you write down the names of the people you talk to.
  • Even if your teen feels uneasy about your involvement, stay involved and make it clear that it is the behavior of the harasser that is at issue.
  • Make sure that your teen documents the harasser’s behavior. Perhaps the teen can keep a journal and write down everything that is said or done, where the conduct took place and if other employees were present.
  • Suggest that the teen talk to other employees and find out what their workplace experience has been.
  • If you decide to consider legal action, find an attorney who has expertise in sexual harassment or employment discrimination cases.

Seeking legal advice

If you have a teenager that you believe is experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, you should call a Pennsylvania attorney experienced in handling employment discrimination cases. An attorney can help your teen understand his or her rights and advise them as to his or her potential remedies.