Payless Shoes drops 2 underage teens from payroll Girls worked 36 hours in Eldersburg CARROLL COUNTY

July 14, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Two teens who counted on income from a summer selling shoes have found themselves jobless, the victims of an employer's hiring error.

Kim Foley, 17, and Kate Nieberlein, 16, worked nearly a week at Payless Shoes Stores before they were fired for being too young.

Kim said the store "should have reviewed its age policy before hiring us."

Kate and Kim both responded to a "Help Wanted" sign in the window of Payless Shoe Stores at Cranberry Mall last month. They filled out applications stating their correct ages, took a test and underwent sales training. The manager of the Westminster store hired the girls to work at the company's new outlet in Carrolltown Center, Eldersburg.

Kate, who figured her car insurance money was on its way, said she stopped filling out other applications.

"The job would be five minutes from my home," she said.

Kim, hoping to get more hours and a start on savings for college, gave two weeks' notice at a restaurant where she worked a few hours per week.

After 36 hours each in the store's employ, Kate won't be paying that insurance bill and Kim will still be waiting tables and looking for more hours.

The Carrolltown manager fired both girls, citing store policy against hiring anyone under 18.

"They told me I should never have been hired because I was not the right age," said Kate. "Nobody noticed that I was the wrong age when I worked all those hours."

Before starting the job June 23, Kate had obtained a work permit signed by her parents, the employer and her high school.

After logging some sales experience at Cranberry, she went to work in Eldersburg unloading shoes and stocking the shelves for the new store.

"It was back-breaking work, unloading boxes and carrying them into the store," said Kate. "I didn't mind, though. I wanted the job."

About a week before the Carrolltown store opened, Kate met the Payless district manager there.

"We talked about what I would be doing," she said. "There was no age problem then."

Kate said the district manager gave her additional responsibility. She spent one morning alone in the store to give blueprints to the construction foreman and directions to the electrician and telephone installer.

The Eldersburg store opened July 1. Kim arrived at work from her home in Gamber at 9:30 a.m. and worked most of the day.

Kate was scheduled to come in at 5 p.m. to relieve her. As Kim's shift ended, so did her job.

Kate never reported to work. The same manager who fired Kim called Kate at 3:45 p.m. and let her go, too. The manager told both girls they were too young to work for Payless.

Rick Nida, director of corporate communications for Payless, said the store policy prohibits hiring anyone under 18, unless the person is in a high school Distributive Education Clubs of America program.

"This was a mistake on our part," he said.

Mr. Nida refused to say whether the company would take any action to prevent future errors and declined to comment further.

Neither girl has been able to find other employment.

"The job market is really tight," said Kate. "I don't want to work for a fast-food place. I have heard horror stories about robberies."

Although Kim had given notice to the restaurant where she worked evenings, she said, the manager took her back.

"But, they are only open evenings," she said. "I need a day job with more hours."

Michael Bixler, employer services representative with the Carroll County office of the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, said many area teen-agers are finding a bleak job market.

"The economy has not straightened out enough to provide a lot of summer jobs, and it is really difficult in this county for teens looking for work," said Mr. Bixler. "I wish I had a bag of jobs, but I have no inside tips for kids."

Kate's mother, Maureen Nieberlein, complained to the state Labor Board and called the Eldersburg store to criticize its "poor management fashion."

"That manager said she had not made the hiring error," she said. "She told me if she didn't correct it and let three under-aged employees go, she would lose her job, too."

Ms. Nieberlein said the store discovered the age discrepancy at its convenience.

"They used these girls to get the store opened," said Mrs. Nieberlein. "Kate didn't lie on her application, and she is the same age today as when they hired her."

The girls were compensated at $4.20 per hour for the time they worked.

The store sent letters of apology, thanked the girls for their efforts and invited them to reapply when they are older.

"Why should we bother?" asked Kim. "They misled us. They should have had their act together before they hired us."

Mrs. Nieberlein said she wanted to make people aware of her daughter's story, "so other kids won't go through the same thing."

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