What Every Teen (And Parent) Needs To Know About Sexual Harassment At Work

Workplace lessons high schools and colleges don't teach

Man talking to uninterested woman
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Thinking about a summer job or internship? I bet you didn't know that, if you are an intern, there is no federal law against sexual harassment of interns. Some states have recently passed laws to fix this horrible omission. If you live in New York, Oregon or DC, you're protected. Other places, not so much.

Big problem, right? That makes stepping out into the work world doubly scary. Your high school and college probably didn't prepare or warn you about the possibility of sexual harassment at work and tell you what to do about it.

If you're a teen or young adult new to the workplace, this article tells you what you need to know about sexual harassment at work. If you're a parent, guardian, relative or friend of a teen, make sure they know this vital information before you send them out there into the great wide world.

Here's what you need to know about sexual harassment:

What is sexual harassment?: If you are an employee and your boss, co-worker, customer, vendor or potential boss is harassing you because of your gender or gender identity, that's sexual harassment, and it's illegal. Sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, offensive comments about men or women in general, off-color jokes, touching, and other harassment that is either so severe or so frequent that it alters the terms and conditions of your employment. A single offhand comment may not be sexual harassment, but a single incident that is severe could be.

Who is covered: The federal anti-discrimination laws apply only to employers with 15 or more employees. Some states and local governments have laws applying to smaller employers. If you're an intern or independent contractor, there may be no law against sexually harassing you at work. If you're a minor, you have added protection. Any adult sexually harassing you is probably committing a crime, and could be a sexual predator.

Where to report it: It is really important that you read the company's sexual harassment policy when you start working and write down where you are supposed to report it if it occurs. It's probably in your company handbook or in a poster in the break room. If they don't have a sexual harassment policy, that's a pretty big fail but you're still protected. You don't have to be afraid, and you should not let yourself become a victim. People you can and probably should report sexual harassment to are your Human Resources department at work and your parents. If you've been touched, then you may want to contact the police. If you see someone else being sexually harassed, you should report it. Harassers will keep doing it, and their behavior will get worse, unless an adult stops them.

Number one rule about sexual harassment: Don't be a silent victim. If an adult or even fellow teen is sexually harassing you, they're breaking the law. When in doubt, talk to a parent or an employment lawyer in your state about your rights.

For more information about sexual harassment, check out my article Top 10 Things You Need To Know If You're Sexually Harassed At Work. If you work at a company too small to be covered under the employment laws, then you still have rights, albeit fewer. For more about sexual harassment at a small company, check out my article What Can I Do About Sexual Harassment At A Small Company?

Stay tuned next week for my article on what every teen and young adult needs to know about workplace rights.


If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.

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