Kids will be kids: Inappropriate workplace behavior and teenage workers

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

Q. Some of our employees are teenagers who work part time while they go to school. Often, this is their first job. Some of them don’t seem to understand proper behavior in the work environment. They usually are OK with customers, but when they are interacting with each other, they give each other a hard time. Verbal put-downs and even physical acts are common. Does this create any potential problems?

A. Yes. You should make sure you have written policies about workplace behavior—and make sure they’re written at a level these workers will understand. You should have training sessions to make sure they get the message about what is appropriate behavior, and you should be able to show that you discipline employees who misbehave.

Often, what you hear about in HR is only the tip of the iceberg of improper behavior. If you know about the “tip” and aren’t engaging in proper follow-up because “kids will be kids,” you might miss the opportunity to learn about and correct behavior that might be so “over the line” that there is potential for claims of racial or sexual harassment.

If your policies aren’t communicated well enough that these younger workers can understand them, the policies might not protect you in the event of a harassment claim.

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