What are my rights as a working teenager?
You may feel that you have few rights as a teenager, and even fewer while at work. You get the worst hours (usually Friday and Saturday nights), the dirtiest assignments (cleanup!), you have to wear a ridiculous shirt and hat—and all for minimum wage. In spite of this bleak picture, you have almost the same rights on the job as an adult.
One of the most important rights is the protection you have against discrimination. This means that it′s against the law for any employer to hire, fire, promote, or pay you based on your religion, race, gender, color, or disability.Your qualifications and job performance are the only valid factors to be considered in evaluating you. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 assures you of these protections, and the law applies to teenagers as well as adults.
Due to federal and state laws about child labor, you may be restricted from certain jobs due to your age. This may be a form of discrimination, but it′s not illegal. Since most teenagers work only part-time, they don′t qualify for health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans. As a part-time employee, however, you′re entitled to a safe workplace, and possibly worker′s compensation if you get injured on the job. This would assist you with medical bills and lost time at work.
As a full- or part-time employee, you may also be drug tested or searched by your employer. It′s the employer′s responsibility to maintain a safe workplace. If you′re suspected of alcohol or drug use, a reasonable search at work is permissible. You may also be subjected to a dress code while at work. It′s not discriminatory or illegal if the business requires a uniform or prohibits visible tattoos, piercings or certain hairstyles. Your personal appearance is important to any business, particularly those that serve the public.
Whether you′re single or married, your employer can′t fire you if you become pregnant. The same is true if you have an abortion.
If you′ve worked full-time for at least one year, you′re entitled to maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Although there′s no guarantee that you′ll be paid during your leave, you won′t lose your job because of your absence. This applies to mothers and fathers alike.
The Family and Medical Leave Act also allows eligible employees to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth, adoption, or the placement of a foster child in the home. It also applies when providing for the care of a spouse, child, or parent with a serious medical condition, or your own medical care. Most teenagers don′t qualify, since eligibility requires one year of employment, with at least 1,250 hours worked that year. The Act applies to employers of more than fifty employees, which also eliminates a number of teen parents.
If you believe that you′ve been illegally discriminated against by your employer, take action! First, talk with your parents. They may suggest a meeting with your employer to attempt to work things out. If this is unsuccessful, you may want to contact a lawyer with a background in employment law. You can also register a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or, as a last resort, file a lawsuit. You have rights and the responsibility to assert them, so don′t be afraid to stand up for yourself.