In what appears to be a continuation of its revved up enforcement of — and attention to — workers’ rights, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken another employee group under its wing: teenagers.
The agency announced recently its release of a new set of free informational aides, developed as part of its Youth@Work initiative to educate America’s young people about their employment rights and responsibilities, and to help employers create positive environments for them.
This Society for Human Resource Management release about the effort (subscription required) says the new tools include a video, student manual and teacher’s manual, and can be downloaded by youth organizations, businesses and any other group wishing to educate young people about what to expect in the working world.
As EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien said in a statement about the program: “As young people enter the workforce, it is important that they understand their rights and know how to respond if they experience or witness unlawful discrimination or harassment.”
Whether this move adds to the already enhanced force of EEOC’s employer investigations and litigation, the real issue, says Michael J. Lotito, a shareholder with San Francisco-based employment law firm Littler, is whether the government gets first crack at molding teenagers’ impressions of work or the employer does.
“Everyone should be aware of their rights in the workplace,” he says. “Young people need to be educated, perhaps more than most, as they may be intimidated more easily by their boss, not have enough ‘real life’ experience to know how to handle [harassment or discrimination] and may even be so embarrassed by the event that they quit instead of complain.
“The message to employers is, ‘Do you want that education to come in the first instance from the government or from the organization?’ Is the message, ‘If something like this happens to you, go to the government’ or is it, ‘Come to us under our policies for resolution’?” Lotito says. “For the supervisors, using the government information as part of proactive, [employer-provided] training is a realistic approach to be considered. ”
In the end, the culture of compliance and respect for all employees will take place either because the employer takes the time to invest in its workforce or because the government forces the company to do so.
One final note: I would love for the government to tell young people what they need to learn in school to help them get a job, why the skills gap in this country should be seen as an opportunity [and] how a job applicant with little or no experience can be a valuable resource nonetheless. Sure, we need to ensure people are treated right on the job, but they first need a job before those rights attach.”