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Health and Safety Rights on the Job for Teen Workers

Factsheet of the "Protecting Workers Who Exercize Rights" Project of the National COSH Network

Most of us have jobs. Sometimes we work full-time; many of us work part-time during the school year. We work to earn some extra spending money or maybe to help our families with necessities. We work to earn a paycheck; we don't go to work to get hurt on the job. However, this is exactly what happens to many of us. Sylvia, Joe and Donna did not bargin on their injuries as part of their jobs.

Who's Clumsy

Has anyone jumped on you or one of your friends because of an "accident" at work? When a worker gets hurt, the boss or someone else is likely to say that person is "clumsy," or not "paying attention," or even "stupid" - especially when we are still in our teens. In other words, they blame the victim for the problem.

There are a lot of stories like Sylvia's, Joe's and Donna's.

Every year about 70,000 teens go to a hospital emergency room for treatment of a workplace injury.

Every year, on average, 68 teens are killed on the job.

This isn't about "accidents" - the problem is UNSAFE WORKPLACES!!!!

Changing the Old Ways

Workplace safety is a serious issue for everyone. Look at the figures above. When you consider how many are injured, killed or made sick, wouldn't you call that an epidemic?

And this is an improvement from when our parents and grandparents were teens! Many people struggled hard to reduce the toll of workplace injuries and disease, but we still have a long way to go. Part of the solution is for you to know how to use the rights and legal protections won over the years by the struggles of workers and health professionals. This fact pack will help you.


Your Workplace Safety Rights

United States law requires your employer to provide work and a workplace free from recognized hazards. An employer who does not do this can be cited and fined by OSHA.OSHA. OSHA also provides a number of legal protections for employees. Below is a brief summary checklist of these protections. More details about some of these rights are listed throughout this fact sheet. For more information, your local OSHA area office or other resource listed on page 8 of your fact pack.

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Don't Be A Victim : Assert Your Rights!

NOTE :Much of the information in this fact pact refers to workers' rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the agency that enforces that law : the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Not all workers in the U.S. are covered by OSHA. Mine workers have the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Employees of state, county and city governments in 27 states are not covered by OSHA regulations. There may be some state regulations in those states that provide certain worker health and safety protections and rights if you are a public sector worker.
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Can You Blow the Whistle and Keep Your Job Too?

    Seven Steps to Prevent and Defend Against Retaliation

  1. Before you take action, ask yourself, "Is my boss likely to respond positively to a question or suggestion about safety?" If not, "Am I prepared for retaliation, even losing my job?" Don't be caught off gaurd by a harsh response to a simple question or complaint about safety.
  2. Strength in Numbers : union members are in a much better position to enforce their rights than individual workers. Raise health and safety issues with your union first. Even if you are not in a union, you will be better off (and have more legal protection) if you join with at least one other co-worker when taking action on job safety and health.
  3. Consider complaining to the government, such as OSHA or your local Fire Department or Health Department, not your employer. This may give you more protection because an employer who first learns about a safety complaint from an official investigation may hesitate to retaliate because the government is already invetigating.
  4. Keep good records :Keep dated notes including the names of witnesses and what was said or done by whom and when. Keep your notes on consecutive pages in a bound notebook, so they will be more useful if you need to use them as evidence. Keep copies of any documents you send or receive.
  5. If you have not been keeping records, sit down right now and write out everything that has happened up to now, with as much detail as possible.
  6. Keep records away from the workplace. The boss might keep you from returning to work to get your stuff.
  7. Don't miss deadlines - you have 30 days to file an 11(c) complaint. It is illegal for your employer to retaliate or discriminate against you because you exercise your rights to a safe workplace. Should this happen, though, you have 30 days to file an OSHA Section 11(c) complaint. The clock starts ticking when you become aware that you have been punished for exercising your rights (which could be later than the time you were punished, if the true reason for the punishment was concealed).

    If your 30-day deadline is about to expire, file your initial complaint by telephoning any OSHA office and say you want to file an 11(c) complaint. Give OSHA the basic facts of the case and be sure to get the name of the person who takes the information from you. Your complaint will be logged in as of the date of the call, and an OSHA inspector should contact you.

For more information about protections against discrimination for execercising your health and safety rights, see the Factsheet : "Using Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act"
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Filing An 11(c) Complaint

Q : How do I file an 11(c) complaint?

There is no official form to file with OSHA. You can make your complaint to an OSHA inspector in a face-to-face or a telephone conversation. It's better, however, to send a letter (use certified mail with a return receipt). Give OSHA the following information :

Do not send copies of documents or other evidence with your complaint, but do include a brief description of any evidence you have.

Q : When must I file?

Don't forget you have only 30 days from the time you find out that you have been discriminated against to file this complaint!

Q : Can I have someone help me file?

Yes. You can authorize a representative, such as your union, a COSH group (local committee on occupational safety and health), or anyone you designate, to do it with or for you.

Q : Where do I file the complaint?

An 11(c) complaint can be filed with any OSHA official or at any OSHA office. Find the address of a nearby OSHA office in the phone book, under U.S. Labor Department, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or call 1-800-321-OSHA.

Q : What happens next?

OSHA will assign an investigator to the case. The investigator will interview you to obtain a detailed description of what happened, which will be written down as a statement for you to sign. You should give the investigator the names of any witnesses who can confirm your allegations and any additional evidence.

After the investigator you and obtains your signed statement, s/he will send your employer a letter announcing an OSHA investigation. Normally, the investigator will deliver the letter to your employer by hand, and will immediately interview any witnesses who are in the workplace, and the employer.

Your employer might claim you were punished for another reason, such as lateness. In that case, the inspector will ask to see records that document the accuracy of such carges. Your employer cannot use something else you've done as an excuse for punishing you when you exercise an OSHA right. For example, if other workers are late and are not punished, the employer would be violating the law by deciding to punish you for doing the same thing after you raise a health and safety issue. But if your employer can prove that you were punished for a reason unrelated to the exercise of your OSHA rights, the invetigation will be closed.

Q :What happens after OSHA's investigation is finished?

OSHA will meet with you to explain it's decisions and answer any questions. If OSHA believes there is not enough evidence to prove your complaint, OSHA will close the case and send you a letter telling you why. If you disagree with OSHA, you have 15 days to send an appeal.

Send your appeal to :

Office of Investigative Assistance
U.S. Department of Labor - OSHA, Room N3603
200 Constitution Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20210

If OSHA determines that you were punished for exercising an OSHA right, OSHA may begin to negotiate a settlemrnt with your employer immediately. OSHA may ask your employer to restore to you whatever was illegally taken away and seek payment of lost wages and other direct losses, but it is a power OSHA almost never uses.

If OSHA comes to an agreement with your employer, it will almost always ask you to join in the agreement. If you will, then the case is settled. If you do not agree to these terms, OSHA has the power (which it seldom uses) to settle the case without your agreement.

Push OSHA to bargin for the best possible settlement (including punitive damages) and refuse to accept an unreasonable settlement.

If OSHA cannot reach an agreement with your employer, it will refer the case to prosecutors at the Labor Department. They can (and often do) refuse to take action, and send the case back to OSHA for more negotiations with your employer. Or, the prosecutors can sue your employer in federal court. You will not be charged for this.

Need help filling 11(c)? Use the resource list at the end of your fact pack.
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Other Protections for Young Workers

Prohibited Work and Hours Limitations

The Federal Government has rules that all employers with young workersmust follow. Certain jobs are prohiibited to those under 18 years old because they are extremely dangerous. Limitations are also put on the hours of work in order to make sure you have plenty of time for school, recreation and other acivities important to your overall health and well-being.

Some states have additional requirements for employers. For information on your state, you can contact the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour division at (202) 219- 8305, and they will give you the number for your state.

Hazardous Work Prohibited for Teens Under 18 Years Old

*Limited exemptions are provided for apprentices and student-learners under specified standards.

Hours Limitations

Youths 14 and 15 years old may work outside school hours in various non-manufacturing, non-mining, non-hazardous jobs up to 3 hours on a school day, 18 hours in a school week, 8 hours on a non-school day, and 40 hours on a non-school week.

Additionally, all work must be done between the hours of 7a.m. and 7p.m., except from June 1 through Labor Day. During this summer period, evening hours are extended to 9p.m.

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Resources for Teen Workers

For more information about your rights on the job, or for assistance in exercising your rights, contact :

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