Summer is here and schools are out. Many teens will spend their summer vacation participating in an American right of passage… “the summer job”. While summer jobs unquestionably bring many benefits to young workers, the jobs are not without risks. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workers under the age of 25 are twice as likely to be injured on the job as older workers and a teen worker is injured on the job every nine minutes. In 2011, more than 331 young workers were killed on the job and 106,170 were injured on the job. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of work related deaths among workers ages 16 to 24 in the United States. This is true even though federal law severely limits workplace driving for workers under the age of 18.
To make matters worse, young workers often are unaware of their rights and do not even know that they are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured. If injured on the job, a young worker mistakenly may believe that they have to use sick time or take time off without pay. They may not seek medical treatment because they do not want to incur high medical bills. A teen who is injured at work may suffer lifelong difficulties and has the same, if not more, protection under the law as an older worker.
Teen workers suffer the same types of injuries as older workers only they may not know that they can pursue a worker’s compensation claim. Some examples of teen work injuries that have been reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) include a teen who died after becoming entangled in a mortar mixer at a residential construction site, a pool manager who was electrocuted when she was checking the pH level of a swimming pool, a 20 year old who lost his finger while working on a printing press, and a young man who suffered serious brain injuries after falling from roof trusses on a construction site.
Our office is presently assisting a teen who suffered a permanent work injury which prevents him from doing many types of jobs. This is a serious situation for someone who is just starting out on their career path. Fortunately, under Vermont workers’ compensation laws, he is entitled to vocational rehabilitation benefits and is working with a vocational rehabilitation counselor to learn skills that will make him employable once again. He also received weekly temporary total disability checks to replace his wages while he was unable to work and medical treatment related to his work injury was paid. When he recovers from his injuries as much as he is able, he will receive a lump sum award to compensate for his permanent injuries.
Young workers may not be aware of what they should do if they are injured on the job. Workers should be instructed to immediately report a work injury to their supervisor and told that employers are required by law to file an Employer’s First Report of Injury. Workers should also be told that they can report a work injury if the employer does not, by filing an Employee’s Notice of Injury and Claim for Compensation. Extra effort should be made to educate young workers because they are new to the work force and do not have years of experience to fall back on. Parents, educators and employers can take an active role in teaching teens about work safety and issues that may arise during their employment, such as work injuries and claims for workers compensation.
While we can’t always prevent work injuries from happening, we can help teenagers have a long and productive working career by speaking with them about safety issues and advising them that they have rights under the law.
For more information see United States Department of Labor.