Keeping Teens Safe on the Job

With summer approaching, many of us with teenage children can expect them to take summer jobs. The reasons for teen employment vary from family to family. Some teens take employment to earn money for a car or other major purchase, while others get jobs to help financially support their families.

Whatever the individual reasons for teen employment, more teens are seeking and receiving jobs than ever before. 50 percent of teens aged 15-17 are working at some time during the course of a year, and 80 percent work during high school. While teens obviously don’t make up the majority of the labor force in America, it’s important to realize that they are injured on the job at twice the rate of adult workers. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 100,000 teens require an emergency room visit for an on-the-job injury on a yearly basis, and there have been at least 70 job-related teen deaths per year. These numbers simply underscore the point that if you have a teenager working over the summer or after school, you should make sure that their work environment is safe and adequately supervised.

The job market for teens is fairly limited, with many of them being hired in the retail and service industries. Fast food restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, retail stores and amusement parks are common employers of those under 18. While most of these jobs wouldn’t seem so dangerous, asking the right questions about both the nature of the work and the work environment can make a world of difference.

Questions to Ask Your Teen

  • Where did you hear about the job? – Some parents are probably so thrilled about their teen showing initiative (and also the prospect of an allowance-free summer) that it never occurs to them to ask where this employment is coming from. Is it a company or store that you’ve heard of? Do you know anyone who works there?
  • What sort of work will you be doing? – If your son or daughter isn’t very physically strong, then you need to know if the job involves heavy manual labor. Many teens will be blinded by the idea of a paycheck and won’t stop to consider what they are actually physically capable of.
  • What are the hours? – This is a crucial question to ask, especially considering that, with the absence of day-to-day attendance at school, teens have a tendency to stay up later than usual. A lack of sleep is never a good thing, but if you combine it with a job involving kitchen or agricultural work, it can be dangerous.
  • Who will be working with you? – Will there be a responsible adult working with your teen? Will the teen be handling money and working late? Is the job in a secure environment? A teen shouldn’t be locking up an isolated gas station or convenience store late at night.
  • Will there be training involved? – Make sure that if your teen will be properly trained if they will be doing something that is new to them. You should also make it clear to any employers that you don’t want any shifts in responsibilities unless there will be adequate training. For instance, if your teen is inexperienced in operating a grill, he or she shouldn’t “fill in” or “sub” for a grill worker without being thoroughly trained to do so.
  • Are you legally allowed to do this job? – If your child answers this with an “I don’t know,” the best thing to do would be to check Wisconsin’s child labor laws. Not only does this let you know what your teen is legally able to do, but it also lets you know exactly how many hours your teen is legally allowed to work. You can use this knowledge to make sure that your teen isn’t being taken advantage of.

Don’t Stop Asking Questions

Anyone who has shared a dinner table with a teenager can testify to the fact that they aren’t the most naturally demonstrative or open people. It can take a great deal of effort to simply get them to tell you how their day at school was, much less how things are going with their new job. But asking questions once they have the job is just as important to your teenager’s safety as asking before they get hired.

  • Do you have any new responsibilities at your job? – Is your teen doing more work? Different work? Did that shift to a different position come with training? Is he or she getting paid more or the same amount for the job? If there was more work for no pay increase, why wasn’t there a raise to go along with the new responsibility?
  • How is everything at work? Does everyone there act appropriately? – This can be a sticky issue with teens, but you should be straightforward with them and make it clear that they can come to you with problems of any nature. Let them know that there are sexual harassment laws that are there for their protection, and that they should let you know if something at work is strange or uncomfortable.

Considering how they feel about curfews, being made to go to bed, and household chores, teenagers might be under the mistaken impression that they have lesser rights than adults. You should make it clear that when it comes to work, they have the same rights as everyone else, especially when it comes to fair wages, decent treatment, and the right to report mistakes or wrongdoing without fear of being fired or other repercussions. They also have the right to earn money without putting their safety at risk. If you have a teen that has been injured on the job, or you have questions about the legality of their working situation, contact Laufenberg, Stombaugh & Jassak, S.C. for a free legal consultation today.