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    What are my rights as a working teenager?

    Date: 08.31.07 | by Judge Tom.

    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.


    Photo by Andrew Hitchcock

    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.

    FYI - learn more about your rights in the workforce by logging onto the EEOC’s Youth@Work Initiative at:  www.youth.eeoc.gov/

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    1 Comment subscribe to these comments.

    • Jamie
      Sat, 28 May 2011 at 10:52

      Hi Judge,

      At a place I work, one of my friends was receiving below minimum wage. It’s a restaurant, and while the hostesses there are supposed to receive $7.25, the waitresses receive below that, around $6.50. Now, we have two girls with the same first name, say Anna and Anna. Now, Anna A. is a hostess but Anna B. is a waitress. I was talking to hostess Anna A. and it turned out she was getting below minimum wage, at $6.50, while Anna B. the waitress got $7.25. I asked the boss/owner about the mixup, but he claimed that because Anna A. is a youth (she was 16) he could pay her less, and that the reason Anna B. was receiving $7.25 was because she had worked at the restaurant a while. I couldn’t say anything at the time, but when I did some research, it turns out he can pay people under 20 below minimum wage, but only for the first consecutive 90 days. Anna A. had been working there about 9 months. Yet when I told him about the issue, he said he supposed it was time to give Anna A. a raise, so she’s now getting minimum. Later I looked at Anna B.’s paycheck, and she’s now getting $6.50 like other waitresses. It seems to me my boss made a mistake by paying the wrong Anna the wrong wage, but doesn’t want to admit his mistake so he doesn’t have to pay Anna A. her lost wages. What do you suggest should be done?
      Dear Jamie: You could tell Anna A. to call the U.S. Department of Labor (Wage and Hour Division) to get answers to her questions concerning back pay. The phone number is: 1-866-487-9243. This is their helpline where they assist workers about the laws in their state and their employment rights. Here is a link to the Department’s website that provides additional information. Good luck to your friend.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)