EEOC Looks out for Teenage Workers; Explains Discrimination, Sexual Harassment

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Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will start a year-long campaign today to protect teenage workers from discrimination and sexual harassment on the job.

The "Youth at Work" campaign begins with a presentation to students at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring by EEOC Vice Chairman Naomi C. Earp.

EEOC officials said they hope to educate teenagers about their rights and to encourage employers to voluntarily comply with federal rules forbidding harassment and abuse on the job.

"We're seeing an emerging trend of discrimination and harassment aimed at teenagers in the workplace," spokesman David Grinberg said.

Although the EEOC does not statistically track the number of harassment complaints by age, the agency says anecdotal evidence and litigation from field offices indicate the problem with teenagers is worsening.

Mr. Grinberg said a contributing factor appears to be that a growing percentage of the work force is reaching retirement age. As older workers retire and are replaced by other experienced employees, lower-level management jobs are turned over to younger workers.

"Thus you have new teenage entrants to the labor force who don't know their rights being managed by younger employees who may not be aware of the law either," Mr. Grinberg said.

Most commonly, the sexual harassment is directed at young women working in the fast-food, retail and hospitality industries, according to the EEOC.

The National Restaurant Association, a trade group for restaurants, says the EEOC lacks evidence that sexual harassment and discrimination against teens is common in the fast-food industry.

"There's only anecdotal information," said Sue Hensley, spokeswoman for the association. "There isn't data to support that claim."

Nevertheless, the association supports the EEOC's worker education campaign.

"We have been working with the EEOC on this program because we believe that even one case of sexual harassment is too many," Miss Hensley said.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that 2.9 million 15- to 17-year-olds work during school months. The number rises to 4 million during the summer. Half of employed high school students work more than 15 hours per week.

The Equal Employment Advisory Council, an association of large private sector employers, says the best response to abuse and harassment of teenagers is for employers to institute policies and procedures to handle the problem effectively. …