Work is a normal part of life for adolescents in the United States. You will normally find these young workers doing jobs in retail, fast food restaurants, childcare, or construction. Working in a job is a great way to learn responsibility from a very young age. Young workers not only earn money for themselves but are able to help with the family as well.
There are specific laws that protect teenagers and young workers against unfair labor practices. Before they can work, teens have to get permission from their parents and school. They also need to be checked by a physician who will certify that they are fit for duty.
Young workers may be first evaluated for the type of work they do, the hours they work, what tools and equipment they handle, whether there is supervision and training on the job, and a plan of action for emergencies.
Businesses in return, have to get a minor work permit allowing them to employ teenagers with consent. They all have to abide by federal and state laws for this to be possible.
For example, in certain states, 14 and 15 year olds can only work a maximum of 3 hours on a school day or 18 hours in a school week. If it’s summer, they can only work up to 40 hours. Workers who are 16 years or older do not have a limit on the number of hours they can work.
Similarly, there are also limits to the types of jobs young workers can do. Those who are younger than 18 are prohibited from doing the following tasks:
- Operate a forklift, circular saw, meat slicer (basically any heavy powered equipment)
- Work in mining, logging, or sawmill
- Work in demolition, excavation, or roofing
- Work in meatpacking or slaughtering
- Work in an environment where there is radiation
- Work in an environment where there are explosives
Workers who are aged 14 or 15 cannot do the following tasks:
- Work on a ladder or scaffold
- Bake or cook
- Work in a warehouse
- Work in construction
- Load or unload a track
- Operate powered machines
Young Employees and Workers’ Compensation
With work comes potential risk for accidents. And yes, young workers, including teens, are qualified for workers’ compensation. Age definitely has an impact on the amount of workers’ compensation you get and whether or not you’ll get one. If you’re a young worker, as in you’re between 15 to 24 years old, you have a better chance of getting approved for your claim.
Here’s a look at the Washington’s State Department of Labor and Industries’ statistics on young workers’ compensation:
- Workers aged 16 to 17 have a higher chance of getting approved workers’ compensation claims compared to 24 year olds
- Workers aged 18 to 21 have a higher chance of getting approved for workers’ compensation claims compared to workers aged 25 and above
- Workers’ compensation cost for young employees take up a small portion of a company’s budget for workers’ compensation costs
As mentioned above, the rate of compensation you receive may be lower compared to your older counterparts. But why the high eligibility?
This is because most young workers are not only generally more robust, they also tend to work in industries that demand more physical labor. It doesn’t take much for them to recover and they’re less prone to injuries. When a kid fresh from high school gets a minor injury, they bounce back faster and require less medication. Compare that to a middle aged worker who may require rest and medication for weeks before they can return to work.
Workers Compensation: Why Age Matters
As a person’s age increases, the more prone they are to injury and disability. This explains why there are more claims for worker compensation in older age groups. Their compensable rate is much higher too!
A study conducted in Colorado between 1998 and 2008 found that for every year that a person working in construction ages, their medical expenses for an accident or injury increases by 1.1%. Their protection against injury also increases by 3.5%. Even for less serious injuries such as sprains, older workers have higher protection compared to those workers aged between 18 and 24.
The Nature of Work as a Young Employee
The industries that hire the most young workers are those in the food and restaurant, retail grocery, retail department, entertainment and amusement, and construction. Construction and restaurants has the highest rate of accidents and has the most costly injuries compared to all other industries, and younger workers are not exempt.
Some common hazards encountered by young workers include:
- Lifting heavy objects
- Handling dangerous tools and equipment
- Performing repetitive tasks that cause strain
- Slippery floors
- Sharp objects
- Exposure to dangerous chemicals (asbestos, pesticides, lead)
- Blunt trauma
- Heat and UV exposure
- Extreme temperatures
- Infectious disease
- Violent crime
Also add in the fact that there is little research done on the long-term effects of exposure to toxic chemicals that young workers encounter on the job. There are more prohibitions for each age group and the list may vary depending on what state you live in.
The reason younger employees get into accidents is not just because of the industry they’re in but their lack of experience as well. There’re not enough training opportunities and sometimes, hard lessons are learned during the job. Younger workers also do not have the maturity to do these kinds of jobs perfectly.
When they do get injured on the job, they not only lose time at work but at school as well. The pressure to juggle everything (work, family, social activities) can also cause a lot of emotional distress. Workers who face such struggles at a very young age are more vulnerable to substance abuse and early onset sexual activity.
Accidents happen everywhere, and the unfortunate reality is that some employers do not strictly abide by the laws regarding young workers and that work-related accidents still happen due to this. If you’re about to work in an industry where the rates of accidents are higher, you want to ensure that your employer provides you with workers’ compensation coverage.
Certain businesses are not required to do so depending on their industry and state. This is why it is important that you set things straight with your employer the moment you get hired. Other questions you can ask them include:
- What hazards will I encounter during the job?
- Will there be safety training?
- Is there safety gear that should be worn? Will it be provided on the job?
- Is there a plan in place for emergencies?
Knowing the answers to these questions can help you decide whether the job is worth pursuing or not. If they tell you that they have occupational accident insurance instead of workers compensation insurance, pay closer attention as these two are not the same. Occupational accident insurance is not regulated by the state and they tend to be less comprehensive.
Exemptions for Workers’ Compensation
There are certain types of employment where you cannot be eligible for workers’ compensation. This includes the following:
- Temp employees
- Agricultural and farm workers
- Domestic workers (housekeeper, caregiver, cook, etc.)
- Casual or seasonal workers
- Undocumented workers
Who Pays For the Workers’ Compensation Insurance
The cost of the insurance is shouldered entirely by the employer. This amount is not deducted from the employee’s salary as it is the main responsibility of the employer to ensure all his employees are protected on the job.
Whether they are required by law varies by state. Some states require coverage for businesses that have at least once employee while others require at least five employees. Again, it all depends what state you are working in.
How to File for Workers Compensation
Many young workers are not aware of their rights as employees and may just pass off a small injury as just another day on the job. If you had an injury during work, you are entitled to get workers’ compensation. It does not matter whether the fault was yours or not. If it happened on the job, you are eligible.
Speak to your employer right away and inform your parent or guardian about the accident. Make sure that you file the claim immediately because there is a deadline for doing so. Failure to file for a claim within the deadline may mean that you are no longer qualified for it. Each state has a different time frame for reporting an incident and filing a claim so you will need to check your state government’s department of labor website for the exact information.
It’s very important that you take care of this immediately. Workers’ compensation will cover the income you lose when you’re not able to do the job as well as the medication required to heal from the injury. Address the injury as soon as possible to prevent further physical impairment that you could limit your career options in the future.
When you file a claim, law prohibits you from suing your employer for damages. You are already protected by workers’ compensation and it is up to you, your lawyer, your employer, and the insurance company to work out the amount that you are entitled to receive. However, if your employer has the aforementioned occupational accident insurance, you can sue them for additional compensation.
Alternatively, you can hire an experienced lawyer who is already knowledgeable about basic things such as this. Not only that, but a workers’ compensation lawyer can make the process less complicated for you. Most attorneys only get paid when the claim is successful. In some cases, the insurance provider has to be the one who pays the attorney’s fee if you win the case. So it is in their interest to get you the best compensation amount you deserve.
You Got Compensated, Now What?
When you get workers compensation, you are entitled to a couple of things which include the following:
- Proper medical treatment which will be paid for by the employer. They cannot use your own health insurance. This is illegal.
- You can choose who your doctor will be. The moment you get injured, your employer may direct you to the doctor of their choosing but for further treatments, you can decide whether to stick to that doctor or switch to a different one.
- You can file a claim directly with the employer’s insurer. You do not have to wait for them. This is important especially if the medical treatment required by your injury is urgent.
- You can receive double compensation if certain child labor laws were violated by your employer.
- You have to be paid a portion of your wages if you aren’t able to work for 5 days. These days don’t have to be consecutive.
- If you get disabled due to the injury, you are entitled to receive compensation for the loss and can receive free training for a new job.
- Return to work once you recover. Your employer cannot fire you for filing a claim due to an accident.
Avoiding Injuries in Young Employees
After an accident, you should also inform your employer right away. This is part of ensuring that you file a successful claim. Not only that but it helps your employer to improve working conditions. Accidents shouldn’t be taken lightly and a few changes will protect both the employee and the employer in the future.
Such steps may include not allowing younger workers to perform dangerous tasks or letting them handle dangerous equipment. They may also conduct proper orientation so all employees are aware of safety guidelines.
Most young workers are afraid to file a claim for fear that they might get fired. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, your employer cannot legally fire you for reporting a complaint regarding safety.
We hope this extensive guide helped you get a deeper understanding of the rights of young workers for filing a workers’ compensation claim.While working at a young age can teach a lot about being accountable for oneself, these are some of the most important information that can protect you and your future.
What other thoughts do you have about this topic? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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