One of the many illuminating things that the coronavirus shutdowns has brought to light is the number of young people who work in ‘essential services.’ Many of the practical nurses and personal support workers on the front lines of healthcare are barely in their twenties. What’s more, many grocery store and shipping centre employees are still teenagers. With so many young people working at the front line of this pandemic, it is perhaps clearer than ever how vulnerable young workers are.
Young workers are particularly vulnerable to workplace injuries and exploitation. Much of their vulnerability stems from their lack of experience. Being new to the workforce, young employees do not have the same amount of practice – and therefore the insights and wisdom that come with it – as do older workers. Young workers have not had enough time to observe and learn from others around them how to anticipate risk and to advocate for themselves. There is also a growing body of evidence to suggest that the teenage brain in particular is not yet fully psychologically developed to properly evaluate risk.
Furthermore, young workers are less likely than their older counterparts to be aware of their rights and their employer’s obligations under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and the Ontario Health and Safety Act (OHSA). This uncertainty with regards to their rights and entitlements may make young workers reluctant to say ‘no’ to dangerous working conditions or tasks despite their right to do so.
Tips for Young Workers
In order to ensure your own health and safety, and that your rights as an employee are respected, young and first-time workers should make a point of familiarizing themselves with their basic employment rights. There are laws in place for your protection, both physical and financial. The ESA applies to you, whether you are working full-time, part-time, on contact, or through a temp agency. This includes provisions concerning overtime, holiday pay, hours of work and vacation pay.
In addition to knowing your basic employment rights, young workers should always make sure that they are properly trained, especially on how to safely use and handle any equipment, tools or substances that may be hazardous to their health and safety. If you are ever unsure about how something works or how to handle a task or situation, ask for as much clarification and further explanation as you need to feel safe, confident and competent with the task you have been assigned. What’s more, you should make sure that you receive the proper personal protective equipment – be it a hard hat or rubber gloves or mask – to do your work safely.
Restricted Areas of Employment for Young Workers
The Canada Labour Standards Regulations allows for individuals under the age of 17 to be employed in most job positions as long as:
- They are not provincially mandated to be in school
- The work is unlikely to put their health or safety at risk
- They do not have to work underground in a mine or in positions prohibited for young workers under the Explosives Regulations, Nuclear Safety and Control Act and Regulations or the Canada Shipping Act.
- Their work hours are not between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The youngest a person can be employed is 14 years of age. However, teenagers under the age of 18 may not be employed during school hours. Additionally, there are certain types of work in which the age at which someone can be employed is over 14. For example, you must be at least 16 years of age to be employed in construction or logging operations and at least 18 to work in underground mines or window cleaning.
Best Practices for Employers
As an employer, know your responsibilities and obligations to all your workers, but especially to those just entering the workforce.
You should be aware that young workers are often inexperienced and may initially require extra training, supervision and encouragement in order to succeed and thrive. No master ever fell, fully formed from the sky. Give young workers the opportunity to learn and prove themselves. Anticipate the challenges and risks they may face and bring these to their attention and offer them extra support when necessary.
Furthermore, it is your responsibility to ensure proper equipment as well as protective devices and materials are available, well-maintained and used as required by law. You should also provide information, training and supervision to protect workers.
First and foremost, as an employer, it is your responsibility to provide all your employees with a safe and healthy work environment. If you have questions about hiring young or inexperienced employees, contact the experienced employment law team at KCY at LAW and book your consultation today or call 905-639-0999.