Teen Employees: Failure To Train And Perform Due Diligence On Applicants Increases Exposure

Written exclusively for Chubbworks

A McDonald's restaurant franchisee in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania agreed to settle a civil lawsuit filed by an employee who, at age 14, was sexually assaulted by her manager. Police arrested the manager for sexual assault, he pled guilty, and is currently in prison.

The civil case includes multiple allegations of negligence against the employer, including a failure to train employees on sexual harassment or how to report it, and an inadequate background check on the manager, who was a registered sex offender.

The employer will pay the teenager $4.4M in settlement of the civil case. A spokesperson for the employer confirmed it has enhanced its security, and has implemented additional training for new hires on promoting a "safe and respectful workplace." Mark Scolforo "McDonald's franchisee agrees to pay $4.4M after manager sexually assaulted teen" abcnews.go.com (Feb. 05, 2024).

Commentary and Checklist

Strong hiring practices utilize criminal background checks, especially if your organization employees teen workers or provides services or products to, or around, children.

In addition to criminal background checks, hiring employers should always check references. Endeavor to speak with the applicant's former managers about not only performance, but also about if the manager had any reason to believe the applicant would not be safe around children.

An allegation against the employer in this case was the failure by management to train on sexual harassment prevention. Employers should always train management, but also employees on sexual harassment prevention, including how to report sexual harassment. 

Many teen workers are "first-time" employees and are not aware of their legal rights. The EEOC has a website for minor employees – Youth@Work. https://www.eeoc.gov/youth

What are other steps employers can take to help protect minor employees from sexual assault and harassment?

  • Incorporate into your mission that workplace participants be treated equally, fairly, and respectfully, regardless of age or experience
  • Establish policies, procedures, and standards that promote equality, require civility, and respect boundaries and adhere to policies, including policies that prohibit sexual harassment
  • Enforce your organization's policies, procedures, and standards, including those that prohibit sexual harassment
  • Encourage all workplace participants, including younger workers and teens, to report sexual harassment that they view, discover or reasonably suspect is occurring
  • Avoid hiring or selecting applicants or workers with a history of sexual harassment
  • When hiring require work and personal references and ask the references if the applicant has a history of sexual harassment, sexual harassment complaints, uncivil or disrespectful behavior, and/or ignoring boundaries. If the answer is yes, move onto another applicant
  • Review the public social media pages of applicants to determine if they engage others in a civil and respectful manner and if they respect the boundaries of others, including peers and younger individuals
  • Make certain all workplace participants, including younger workers and teens, go through an orientation program, which will include policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment
  • Discipline any employee — regardless of title, status, or duties — who engages in, encourages, or promotes sexual harassment, is uncivil to workplace participants, and/or ignores boundaries of others and/or the organization
  • Discipline any employee — regardless of title, status, or duties — who makes a knowingly false claim of sexual harassment
  • Make certain all terminations are based on provable and documented objective factors, related to job performance, and not based on subjective, arbitrary, or illegal factors, including terminations for reporting, complaining, and/or providing testimony about sexual harassment
  • Make certain that new leadership treats existing employees equally, fairly, and legally prior to hire or transfer and does not have a history of sexual harassment, sexual harassment complaints, uncivil or disrespectful behavior, and/or complaints regarding respecting boundaries of others
  • Document all actions related to termination or discipline of workers, including workers accused of sexual harassment
  • Require all workplace participants, including younger workers and teens, to take sexual harassment prevention training in a language they understand
  • Require all workers to take diversity equality and inclusion and civility training in a language the trainee can understand
  • Provide several safe and effective means for workplace participants to report sexual harassment
  • Consider prohibiting sexual and/or intimate relationships between coworkers, including such relationships involving younger workers and teens
  • Clearly communicate, through policies, procedures and postings, the means and process by which workplace participants can report sexual harassment
  • Avoid situations in which teen employees work extended periods of time without adult supervision
  • Eliminate situations where teens are working one-on-one with other teens or adults
  • Make certain that parents and/or guardians are included in all important communications with minor employees, including communications regarding wrongdoing committed by, or against, them, such as harassment and/or assault
  • If a minor employee is sexually assaulted, make certain to report the assault to law enforcement and to parents/guardians
  • Allow for a means by which workplace participants can report sexual harassment anonymously without fear of retaliation
  • Investigate all reports and reasonable suspicions of sexual harassment in a thorough, prompt, and objective manner
  • Consider the use of third-party investigators for sexual harassment investigations that involve executive management, more than one complainant, charges of sexual assault or abuse or where there is a conflict of interest with investigators that are workplace participants
  • Prohibit retaliation against workplace participants who report or complain about sexual harassment or who are involved in investigations regarding sexual harassment
  • Provide a safe and effective means for workplace participants, who report or complain about sexual harassment or who are involved in investigations regarding sexual harassment  to report retaliation
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