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Hostile Work Environment For Teens: Child Abuse And Sexual Harassment

The father of a former teen employee at a Wendy's Restaurant sued the company, alleging his daughter, who started working at the restaurant in 2015 when she was 15, was sexually harassed and groped by a manager.

The father alleges the girl's manager "began making unwanted sexual advances toward her" in early 2016. He would ask her to come to his house for a "good time" and to "wear special panties." Further allegations are that in June 2016, the manager approached her from behind and fondled her against her will. When another manager learned of the incident, no effort was made to discipline or to report the offending manager.

The girl continued to work at the restaurant for several months, not knowing who to turn to as she endured the hostile work environment. She finally broke down and told her father, who immediately reported the incidents to the police.

The manager pled guilty to disorderly conduct and harassment. He was sentenced to one year of probation. Terrie Morgan-Besecker, "Lawsuit: Wendy's manager sexually harassed teenager," http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/lawsuit-wendy-s-manager-sexually-harassed-teenager-1.2312862) (Mar. 12, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

According to the allegations in the lawsuit, the corporate management of Wendy’s was aware that the manager was under criminal investigation, but did not terminate his employment. The company allowed him to continue overseeing the restaurant’s staff, comprised mostly of teenage girls.

When a report of sexual harassment is made, an employer should take immediate steps to separate the accused and the reporter, pending the outcome of an investigation, to make sure that if sexual harassment was indeed occurring, that it does not continue.

Sexual harassment affects workers in every type of workplace setting and at any level of employment. Harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Teenage employees are at a particularly high risk for sexual harassment.

What should organizations do to protect teen employees from sexual harassment?

  • Have a clear sexual harassment policy in place that protects both women and men from harassment, including same-sex harassment.
  • Train all employees at least annually on what constitutes sexual harassment, your harassment policy, and how to report harassment. Enforce your policy uniformly.
  • Avoid situations in which teen employees work extended periods of time with one or two older employees or third parties without direct management involvement.
  • Implement a reporting procedure that allows for several avenues of reporting, and anonymous reporting if possible.
  • Train managers and supervisors on how to prevent and spot sexual harassment, and to intervene immediately if they witness or hear about the harassment of an employee.
  • Do not disregard teens' complaints about coworkers or others in the workplace. A teen's offhand remark may be his or her way of communicating a harassing situation in the workplace.
  • Investigate all complaints of harassment promptly, thoroughly, and impartially.
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