Teenagers harassed on the job

Hundreds of teenagers hustling to get summer jobs: How many of them will end up getting ripped off or harassed by their employees?

Last year, Sydney Demo, 15, a sophomore from Mt. Laurel, was one of them.  I met Sydney on Monday at Lenape Regional High School District's second annual job fair. (Read my story and blog post about the job fair.) Sydney seemed poised and personable. Professionally dressed, she looked like any young career woman, I might encounter in any office around the region.

Handing in resumes and talking with James Blackwell, party operations manager of Funplex in Mt. Laurel, about summer and parttime jobs with the company at the 2nd annual Lenape Regional High School job fair. are (from left, all Lenape High students): Britney Frazier, 16, junior; Amanda Agbaje, 16, junior; Sydney Demo (cq), 15, sophmore; and Emily Brady, 16, sophmore. ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )

When she worked at an area restaurant, she said, her pay checks bounced and one of the male managers made her feel creepy with the attention he paid to her.  

While the vast majority of teenagers find that their first jobs provide valuable experience and spending money, a significant number have the opposite experience. They are particularly vulnerable to being ripped off, harassed and discriminated against, partly because they don't have enough life experience to know when things are going wrong. Both the U.S. Labor Department and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have web sites to help young people sort out some of these issues. Click here for the Labor department website and here for EEOC's "Youth at Work" website.

I asked Sydney for the advice she would give to other young people to avoid the situation she encountered. "Just be careful with the jobs and listen to what people say," she said. Other people had told her about their bounced checks, but somehow she thought her situation would be different.