The EEOC’s most recent effort is an outreach program called the Youth @ Work Initiative which began in September of 2004. This is a national initiative designed to educate young/teenage employees and employers who hire teenagers. The EEOC hopes through its efforts to educate young employees about the illegality of discrimination and harassment based on sex, race, religion, national origin, or disability.
The EEOC’s initiative includes a website, www.youth.eeoc.gov, which provides information regarding employment rights as well as procedures for bringing EEOC charges and complaints. Along with the education aspect of the initiative, the EEOC has also brought a number of recent suits against fast food restaurants in Arizona, New Mexico, Florida and Missouri. These suits include allegations of sexual harassment, same sex harassment, and retaliation against young female and male employees. The EEOC has settled some of the suits for amounts in the $400,000 to $500,000 range. The EEOC also makes part of the settlements an obligation by the employer to engage in remedial measures and an agreement to monitoring by the EEOC. The EEOC has also engaged in significant publicity campaigns regarding the suits and the settlements of the suits. The publicity is designed to make employers aware of the EEOC’s initiative on behalf of young workers.
What the cases show is that often young workers are supervised by young managers who are not well informed or trained, and the managers either engage in the harassment themselves or overlook it. Also as in other harassment cases, it is noted that the employers did not properly inform their employees of their anti-harassment policies and the procedures for reporting complaints. Once again, it is important to review not only your discrimination and harassment policies but also to assure that managers are trained and vigilant in addressing improper behavior which they observe as well as promptly responding, investigating, and taking remedial action when complaints are received. Policies must be given to all employees and procedures for complaints made clear to all employees. Promulgating, training, responding, enforcing and taking remedial action are key words to remember not just with regard to young and teenage employees but to all employees as the EEOC’s most recent initiative and the cases growing out of it again made clear.