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 of that, 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 2001 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 EEOC's efforts to inform young people as to their rights and how the EEOC process works. Additionally, the EEOC's 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 Charlotte-Mecklenburg 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). KAPOW, founded in 1991 by Grand Metropolitan PLC and the National Child Labor Committee was designed to "fill a gap in the nation's school-to-work initiatives" and connect younger kids to jobs they may hold in the future (Personnel Journal, 1995). Companies participating early on included Green Giant, Burger King and Alpo Pet Foods. The Developmental Partners project began in 1986 and was aimed at improving opportunities for minority and underprivileged students. In this program, high school juniors attended classes on study skills, test taking, time management and college-major planning. …