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Teen at workThe topic of sexual harassment has received increased visibility in recent months. The #metoo and #timesup movements have inspired many people of all ages to speak about their experiences of sexual violence on social media. Some who have read and shared these stories remember a time in their youth when they felt they had no voice or were unsure if they would receive support if they were to speak up.   Parents may wonder what can be done to protect or help their own teens who join the workforce.

Massachusetts state law requires that employers with six or more employees adopt a written policy against sexual harassment and provide employees with training on the company’s guidelines. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) uses a curriculum called Talking Safety, designed to teach workplace health and safety skills and knowledge to young workers in any setting. Talking Safety has a lesson on sexual harassment that includes links to resources and more information, which you can access here.

Even with different trainings available, young workers tend to be less likely to report abuse than older workers are. According to a report published by the American Association of University Women, “some researchers claim that sexual harassment is so common for girls that many fail to recognize it as sexual harassment when it happens”. It is important for teens to understand that sexual comments and unwanted touching they may experience in school also constitutes sexual harassment if experienced at work, and is unlawful in both cases.

You can cover the following suggested topics with your teen, whether they have been working for a while or are about to start. The goal is for working teens to recognize a situation they may witness or be a victim of, and to provide tools so they know how to address unwelcome behavior:

  1. What is sexual harassment?

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature … when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

  1. What are some examples of sexual harassment?

Some examples of sexual harassment include, but are not limited to: unwanted pressure for sexual favors; unwelcome hugging; patting; kissing; stroking; personal gifts; emails with sexual innuendo; sexist behavior including jokes; posting images that are sexual in nature; attempted or completed sexual assault or rape.

  1. Victim shaming/blaming: it is not the victim’s fault

Part of a healthy workplace environment is to be able to joke around with co-workers, as long as every party involved feels comfortable with the interaction. Victim blaming or shaming has been a leading factor that keeps people from reporting a sexual harassment incident. If the victim feels like someone will question why a coworker felt comfortable with harassing them, the victim may prefer to keep quiet. It is important to let your working teen know they are not responsible for their co-workers’ actions.

  1. Time limits to report sexual harassment apply in Massachusetts:

According to Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) Guidelines on Sexual Harassment Laws in Employment, a harassment charge should be filed with the Commission within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory act.  There are some exceptions for those who were unaware of those time limits.

  1. There are various ways to report a sexual harassment incident

Reporting sexual harassment to the designated person responsible for taking these reports at work is the first option. But many situations may exist where a worker may not feel comfortable making a report in the workplace. You also have the option to reach out to the following agencies in order to file a complaint:

  • Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination MCAD: (617) 994-6000
  • US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEOC: (800) 669-4000

For free, confidential support services, you can contact a local Massachusetts Rape Crisis Center, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

For free, comprehensive legal services for sexual assault victims with legal issues in Massachusetts in the areas of privacy, safety, housing, education, employment, immigration, and financial stability, you can contact the Victim Rights Law CenterThey have a guide and a resource bank, specific to teens, which you may find helpful.


Written By:

Project Coordinator in the Occupational Health Surveillance Program

Sexual Assault Prevention and Survivor Services Program Coordinator

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