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Young People and First Jobs — Know Your Rights!

Published in Buffalo Healthy Living, April 2016

by Lindy Korn, Esq.

Do you remember your first job? Were you excited and eager to make a great impression? Did you look up to and respect your employer, believing in promises that your employer made to you? Did you know that if you are touched inappropriately you can say something about it? Were you ever afraid to talk about what happened to you?

Getting a first job can be exciting, as is being able to support yourself for the first time. Often, however, youth and innocence can invite manipulation. Consider a recent situation involving a girl I will call Jane.

Jane was locked in a closet, sexually assaulted, and raped daily for 14 months by her 43-year-old coworker. She was threatened and told not to report what was happening because it was entirely her fault. The continued abuse finally led Jane to attempt suicide.

When management was informed of the incident instead of doing anything to remedy the situation, they warned Jane against filing a complaint, telling her to quit her job if she had a problem with coworkers.

Now Jane struggles with depression, anxiety and nightmares, and finds it difficult to show and receive affection, especially with male family members. She hasn’t been able to find a new job because of her lack of trust of strangers and employers. Her doctor testified that she would have life long susceptibility to resurgent symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Jane’s mother said her daughter started isolating herself from family and friends soon after she began working. Following her suicide attempt, Jane continued to isolate herself, became more nervous and tense, losing her temper and crying regularly. Her mother found her Jane crying in the fetal position on more than one occasion. What Jane experienced has changed her life, and these incidents happen more often than you think.

As a parent, it is important to talk to teens going to work for the first time about what it means to be an employee. Ask them to show you the employee manual that employees like Jane would have been asked to sign. Discuss their available options if someone tries to touch them in an unwelcomed manner. If you notice that their behavior at home has changed since they began working, it may be important to let them know you are concerned for their safety and ask them about their co-workers and supervisors.

Many times an employer establishes a pattern of behavior and teenagers only stay for a certain period of time after which they become sick. Watch out for these patterns and talk to other parents whose children have been employed at the same place. Remember, complaining about workplace sexual harassment is very difficult for a victim and shame and blame keep them silent. This is especially true of teens who want to keep their jobs!

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