Teens Hit The Workforce: Are You Ready For The Summer Influx of Young Workers?

July 1, 2008

(Article originally published in the New Hampshire Business Review, July 18, 2008. http://www.nhbr.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080718/INDUSTRY04/468964865)

During the summer months Daisy’s Dairy hires a number of workers under the age of eighteen to help prepare and serve ice cream, fried foods and other specialties at its roadside diner on the way to the beach. The diner is open seven days week from early morning until late at night. There are jobs making ice cream, serving customers and doing routine maintenance and cleaning available. It is a family owned business which employees upwards of thirty people during the busy summer season. What special considerations does the company need to take into account when employing teens?

Although teen workers make up a significant and important part of the local economy year round, the influx of young workers during the summer months highlights the need to be aware of particular concerns and problems that employers face with teen workers.

Youth Employment Laws

The New Hampshire Department of Labor (“NHDOL”) has the authority to administer RSA 276-A, which governs youth employment. The NHDOL is vigilant in enforcing these laws for the protection of young workers, and employers caught violating them may be subject to significant civil penalties and damages. Employers therefore need to be aware of the following:

Parental Permission and Youth Employment Certificates: Companies employing workers under the age of 16 are required to keep on file Youth Employment Certificates issued by the school confirming that the student meets minimum academic qualifications. If the employee is at least 16 years of age, the employer needs only written permission from the parent or guardian for the child to work. These documents must be on file within three days of the first day of employment. There are exceptions for children working in businesses owned by parents or grandparents and for farm or “casual” labor. Minors 13 years of age and under are generally not permitted to work except in a business solely owned by a parent as long as the work is not manufacturing, mining or otherwise defined as hazardous under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

Hours of Work: Employers are required to comply with state and federal law regarding restrictions on the hours and days and start and end times for youth employment. Employers must comply with the law most protective of the employee. The rules differ depending on whether school is in session. Employers may obtain a comprehensive list of these restrictions from the NHDOL. Employers are also required to post the weekly schedules of all youth workers in a conspicuous place.

Hazardous Jobs: There are many restrictions on what jobs employees under the age of 18 may perform. Different rules apply depending upon whether the work is agricultural or nonagricultural. Generally, 16 and 17 year olds are precluded from doing jobs declared hazardous under the FLSA. These include mining, logging, meat packing or processing, driving on public roads, excavation and operating power driven bakery machines. Restrictions for 14 and 15 year olds go further and include most power driven machinery including lawn mowers and weed cutters and prohibit baking. Operation of most office equipment and some equipment found in food service establishments such as dishwashers, coffee makers and milk shake blenders is acceptable.

Teen Harassment

Due to concerted efforts on the part of employers and many highly publicized lawsuits, the incidents of very obvious sexual harassment among adults have been reduced (although not eliminated). Statistics show, however, that harassment among teens is increasing and is becoming fodder for lawsuits against employers. Most responsible and risk averse employers have in place strong anti-harassment policies, training programs and protocols for investigating complaints. Unfortunately, many teen workers who are either seasonal or part time fall through the cracks and do not receive comprehensive training.

In addition, many of the industries in which teens are employed are those where the managers themselves are very young or the environment is very casual and social. Consequently, restaurants, retail stores, hotels, tourist spots and fast food establishments are at heightened risk of harassment claims.

Business owners should make certain that their sexual harassment training programs are sufficiently comprehensive to ensure that everyone is trained. Although human resource and upper management personnel may be well trained and committed to a harassment-free work environment, it does no good if the training does not get to the front line managers and those most likely to be victims. Young managers especially need to be made aware of the distinction between what might be acceptable at a social event but not in a business environment. Young workers need to understand that there are avenues for making complaints about offensive behavior (whether based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity or any other category) and that appropriate action will be taken against offenders.

There are many issues which face businesses employing young workers, and numerous circumstantial exceptions. Further detail on youth employment laws can be obtained from the New Hampshire Department of Labor or the United States Department of Labor, and employers are encouraged to consult these organizations or legal counsel when dealing with specific concerns.

Charla Bizios Stevens is an attorney in the Employment Law Practice Group at the law firm of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, P.A. Charla can be reached at 603-628-1363 or charla.stevens@mclane.com. The McLane Law Firm is the largest law firm in the State of New Hampshire, with offices in Concord, Manchester and Portsmouth.