Creating Positive First Work Experiences for Young Adults: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (Eeoc) Youth @ Work Initiative

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The percentage of sexual harassment allegations filed by workers under the age of eighteen has increased dramatically since 2001. It is generally accepted that attitudes toward work and many basic work related behaviors are learned early in life. Because of that, the initial job experiences that young workers encounter are important in shaping their future behavior in the workplace. The purpose of this paper is to examine the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) Youth@Work initiative and to present policy and practice suggestions that employers can utilize to reduce their exposure to litigation and create positive first work experiences for young adults.

INTRODUCTION

The first job is a rite of passage for any teenager, giving young workers their first taste of real responsibility and teaching them some important financial lessons. But as some unfortunate teenagers in Arizona will tell you, their first taste of the working world can also include some very "grown-up" problems (Reynolds, 2007).

"Give today's kids a taste of work - and you'll get better employees tomorrow" (Personnel Journal, 1995). It is generally accepted that attitudes toward work and many basic work related behaviors are learned early in life. Because ofthat, the initial job experiences that young workers encounter are important in shaping their future behavior in the workplace. In recent years, sexual harassment and discrimination, aspects of workplace behavior that have plagued many organizations, have been identified as a serious problem for organizations that employ teenage workers (Flahardy, 2005). The percentage of sexual harassment allegations filed by workers under eighteen has increased dramatically since 200 1 from 2 percent to 8 percent in 2004 (Flahardy, 2005). The number of lawsuits filed by the EEOC involving teen workers increased from eight cases in 2001 to 15 in fiscal year 2005 (Armour, 2006). One published source estimated that the EEOC "has filed at least 131 lawsuits across the country involving the harassment of teenage employees" (Phillips Jr., 2007). In response to the increased complaints and litigation involving young workers, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission initiated the Youth @ Work Initiative in September of 2004. This comprehensive outreach and education campaign is designed to inform teenagers about their employment rights and responsibilities and to help employers create positive first work experiences for young adults (EEOC, 2007). The primary objective of the program is to inform young workers as to their "real world rights and responsibilities as an employee"(EEOC, 2007). To that end, the EEOC web site (www.youth.eeoc.gov) and more than 2,100 Youth@Work events held nationwide since the program was initiated have spear headed the EEOCs efforts to inform young people as to their rights and how the EEOC process works. Additionally, the EEOCs outreach efforts have also been directed at employers, with the objective of helping employers "create positive first work experiences for young adults"(EEOC, 2007). The purpose of this paper is to examine the increase in sexual harassment allegations associated with workers under the age of eighteen, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) Youth@Work initiative, and to present policy and practice suggestions that employers can utilize to reduce their exposure to litigation and create positive first work experiences for young adults.

NATURE OF THE PROBLEM

Employers have recognized for a number of years the importance of creating positive first work experiences for young people. Numerous programs like Kids and the Power of Work (KAPOW) and Developmental Partners, a project between Duke Power Co. and the CharlotteMecklenburg school system of North Carolina have been developed to give young people as early as their elementary school years a "taste of work" with the objective of getting "better employees tomorrow" (Personnel Journal, 1995). …