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Know your Rights as a Teen Worker / By: Norah Hendrickson

There has been a growing trend of youth employment in the United States. As of July 2022, 55.3 percent of people aged 16-24 were employed, an increase from 54.4 percent from the year before (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). Whether these millions of employees work at ice cream shops, bowling alleys, pools, or other places, there is one thing that binds all young workers together: their rights. While youth employment has many benefits, it is also important for youth employees to know their rights. According to the Young Worker Health and Safety Website, “Every year, nearly 30 teens under 18 die from work injuries in the United States. Another 27,000 get hurt badly enough that they go to a hospital emergency room” (Young Worker Health and Safety, 2018). Education on what you are owed as an employee, including a safe workplace and training when using dangerous equipment, is a necessity to help prevent fatalities. 

Outside of physical health, employees are owed breaks and minimum wage, which differs from state to state. The young age of teen workers can create an intimidation and power barrier to acquiring what they are owed. Caroline Patterson, a senior at Jones College Prep who has been working since she was 14, recalls, “Being a young girl is hard, especially when we’re comparing pay. So I often found I was paid less because I was younger and, additionally, I felt I wasn’t encouraged to advocate for a pay raise when it matched my work dedication.” 

If you feel that your rights are being violated, speak up. Yasin Khan, leader of the young workers’ section within the University of California Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program, suggests talking with coworkers and approaching the problem together, “If it [problem within workplace] is something that multiple peers are concerned about, approaching a supervisor together as a collective can be a lot more successful than just one person going on their own.” 

Understanding your rights empowers you as a young worker. If you are ever unsure of the safety of your workplace or tasks, do some research to gain some legal context. Remember that your safety comes before all else and never be afraid to speak up against unfair, and illegal, treatment.  


-Caroline Patterson, young worker

-Yasmin Khan, Labor Occupational Health Program


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