Five Tips for Hiring Teenagers

Summer is coming, and you may be thinking about employing some teenagers. Here’s some lawyerly advice: proceed with caution. Employing teens requires you as an employer to foresee potential problems and correct them very early.

Here are five tips for hiring teens:

1. Safety: You have to be much more safety-conscious when you employ teens. In 2014, workers ages 15-19 had more than twice as many injuries that sent them to the emergency room than employees over age 25.

Your company has a legal duty, according to OSHA, to provide a safe working environment for all employees, which means you need to engage in extensive safety training with new teen employees. Cover the most common workplace hazards and injuries such as slips, trips and falls, chemical exposure, burns and cuts, eye injuries, machinery malfunctions, and strains and sprains, as well as any known hazards specific to your workplace.

Remember that teenagers are often uncomfortable acknowledging their ignorance or inexperience, so they may not ask questions that would indicate that they don’t clearly comprehend your training or instructions. They also may not learn without extensive repetition of the rules. Don’t assume that stating a safety rule one time is going to sufficiently train a teen worker.

2. Sexual Harassment: Many recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforcement actions have shown that teenagers are very vulnerable when it comes to sexual harassment. They need as much if not more training than your more mature employees in how to recognize, prevent and report harassment, even if the job is not considered long term for that teen.

The EEOC just sued an Arby’s franchisee in Alabama in March 2018 because the company hired a team leader trainee who allegedly pressured young female employees to have sex with him, and regularly used sexually graphic language to describe sexual acts he sought to perform on female employees. The EEOC also alleges that the harasser deliberately touched one female employee in an unwelcome and sexual manner and injured another. Then the complaints up the chain of command weren’t investigated, according to the EEOC.

The EEOC district director said, “”Federal anti-discrimination laws exist to protect workers from this kind of abuse. The EEOC will continue to aggressively pursue remedies for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly young, vulnerable workers.”

If you have at least 15 names on the payroll (including part-time and temporary), you can be sued for sexual harassment, and you have a duty to prevent it or stop it. Each one of your new employees should receive a copy of your written sexual harassment policy, and sexual harassment training should be mandatory for all new employees and repeated annually for your entire workforce. If there is a report of harassment, you must immediately and thoroughly investigate it.

An easy way to fulfill your orientation and training responsibilities to teen workers is to video one session when your trainer is explaining sexual harassment prevention to a new teen worker. Then you can show that video to each new employee and you don’t have to repeat yourself numerous times. It can also protect you if you are sued because it can establish the fact that you made a reasonable effort to train and protect your teen employees.

3. Child Labor Rules: There are lots of legal restrictions on hiring teens, who are still considered “child labor” by the Department of Labor. You need to review the basic rules about child labor on the Department of Labor website.

Pay close attention to hours that 14- and 15-year-olds can work:

  • Only non-school hours;
  • No more than 3 hours in a school day;
  • No more than 18 hours in a school week;
  • No more than 8 hours on a non-school day;
  • No more than 40 hours on a non-school week; and
  • Only hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (except from June 1 through Labor Day, when the evening hours are extended to 9 p.m.)

If you are hiring a 16- or 17- year old, there are no limits on the hours that he/she can work. However, there are limits on the duties anyone under 18 can perform. A teenager generally cannot work in any occupation considered hazardous, including construction jobs, warehousing jobs, public messenger jobs or jobs that require the use of power-driven machines, such as meat slicers, bakery equipment, power saws, etc.

The U.S. Department of Labor has a different set of rules regarding hours and hazards for teens working on farms that you should review if you are an agricultural employer.

4. Driving Rules: A common mistake that employers make with teenagers under 18 is to allow them to drive on the job. No 16-year-old may drive a motor vehicle on public roads as part of his/her job. That means that you can’t use a 16-year-old to even run to the fast food place to pick up your lunch or to the office supply store for a printer cartridge.

If your employee is 17, the U.S. Department of Labor’s rules require that he/she can drive on the job only during daylight hours, only if the teen has completed a state approved driver’s education course and has no moving violations on his/her record at the time of hire, and only if she spends no more than 20 percent of her time during any one workweek driving on company business. Are you going to  check the driving record and then keep track of the driving time of each teenager you employ?

My experience with teen drivers leads me to advise my clients to not allow anyone under the age of 18 to drive on the job for any reason. Teenagers’ inexperience and lack of good decision-making skills create an unnecessary risk on the road.

5. Minimum Wage: So, if I haven’t scared you out of ever hiring a teen worker, I should point out that there is one advantage to working with teens that you should be aware of: they can be paid a lower minimum wage for the first 90 days of employment.

This special minimum wage of $4.25 per hour applies to employees under the age of 20 during their first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment with an employer. So, if you are just hiring a new teen worker for the summer only, you may be able to pay that worker $4.25 instead of the normal minimum wage of $7.25 during the three summer months.

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