For young people starting their first summer job, there are more things to think about than being on time, following directions and completing assigned tasks.
Even teenagers are facing adult subjects such as sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. That's why employers and others are working to help more young workers know their rights and responsibilities through orientations, on-the-job training, mentoring and government initiatives.
After fielding a growing number of complaints from young workers about sexual harassment as well as disability and race discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began offering free workplace education workshops to teenagers, parents and employers two years ago.
The agency teamed up with members of the restaurant and retail industries to develop an education program that encourages young workers to stand up for their rights in the workplace. "An individual's first job can leave a lasting impression," said Lynn Clements, an EEOC attorney. "The primary goal of the [EEOC outreach] initiative is to ensure that the first job is a positive one. It's not only good for the worker but for the employer. What a worker learns on his or her first job will be carried throughout the career."
Even though labor issues are likely the last thing on a teenager's mind, experts say young workers and their parents should spend some time talking about those issues before starting a job. Teen workers should treat one another, colleagues and supervisors with respect, experts say, and expect the same in return.
Employers count on eager, yet inexperienced, young people to fill restaurant, retail and office jobs in the summer, a time when extra help is needed and full-time workers take vacation. Last year, 21.7 million youths ages 16 to 24 were employed from April to July, an increase of 2.7 million from 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
While some employers don't provide specific job training on teen workers' rights, many managers in the Baltimore region say hiring young workers requires plenty of patience, learning opportunities and positive reinforcement. Several companies ask parents to attend seminars to discuss their child's job and go over the labor laws affecting young workers.
Martin's Caterers, of Woodlawn, hires about 125 young workers, many of them 14- and 15-year-olds, each summer, said Jeff Post, its vice president. The catering business has been hiring its summer employees from YouthWorks, a program run by the Baltimore Mayor's Office of Employment Development, for at least 20 years, Post said.
Parents get training
Because most of its new workers are first-time employees, Martin's Caterers holds an orientation session for parents, informing them of what is expected of their child, what type of guidance they could provide, and rules and regulations, including overtime pay, breaks and work hours, Post said.
Similar information is shared at a separate orientation for the young workers, who will be preparing box lunches via an assembly line, Post said.
Post said the company has had few problems with young workers over the years. The biggest issues have been teaching them how to work together and establishing decorum among teenagers who have no work experience, he said.
"We treat the kids with respect and we expect to be treated the same way," Post said.
Karen Blue, owner of Blue Cow Cafe in Columbia, has been hiring teenagers since she opened her restaurant five years ago. She has two high school employees working part time, and she usually hires four to five more young workers for the summer.
Blue said she sees herself as more of a mom than a boss. She provides encouragement and allows her teen workers to try new things and learn from their mistakes.
"The first job is always so hard," she said, recalling her first job working for a veterinarian. "This gives them the confidence to get another job."
Laura Winkelman, 17, a senior at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, has worked for Blue for 3 1/2 years. She works part time during the school year and longer hours during the summer.
Her job entails everything from working the cash register to making sandwiches and bussing tables. Winkelman said her experience has taught her work ethics and professionalism.
Before she started working at the cafe, Winkelman said she made it a point to know "how I was entitled to be treated."
"I talked to my parents about what the boundaries were, and I knew the rights and wrongs in the workplace, especially being a minor and a female," she said, noting that her work experience at the cafe has been a positive one.
Baltimore's YouthWorks program has been training young workers for 30 years, said Alice Cole, director of career development services for the Mayor's Office of Employment Development.