Teenage workers, particularly girls, are highly vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. One study of high school students who held part-time jobs found that 2 in 3 girls and 1 in 3 boys reported being sexually harassed at work. The majority reported that they were harassed by co-workers (61 percent), followed by supervisors (19 percent), and customers (18 percent). Teens who experience workplace sexual harassment and violence are more likely to have higher levels of stress, academic withdrawal, school absences, and demonstrate depressive symptoms that persist nearly 10 years after the incident.
Teens are vulnerable to workplace harassment and sexual violence for a number of reasons. First, teenage workers often work in the hospitality and retail industries – industries which have the highest rates of sexual harassment and violence – exposing them to an environment in which harassment is pervasive. Second, as temporary or part-time workers, teens may not receive the same level of training and information about sexual harassment policies, workplace rights, and available remedies. Finally, being new to the workforce, teen workers may not have an understanding of acceptable workplace behaviors and may not feel empowered to speak up. When sexual harassment is commonplace and left unaddressed in a workplace, these behaviors become accepted as a "normal" part of work life, particularly as teen workers look to more experienced employees as models.
In response, employers must provide teen workers with adequate education and support around workplace sexual harassment and violence to help reduce their vulnerability to harassment and violence and to connect those who experience harm with appropriate support and mediation. Workplaces must also invest in educating all workers – including part-time, temporary employees, or interns about their rights and workplace policies on sexual and other forms of harassment during onboarding and throughout their employment tenure. In addition, supervisors charged with overseeing teenage workers need to be adequately trained to recognize and respond to harassment and serve as strong workplace role models and advocates. Finally, teen workers should be connected with workplace resources specifically designed to be accessible for them. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Labor Occupational Health Program at the University of California at Berkeley have both created websites for young workers which can serve as models for educating teens about workplace rights and harassment.