When your teen got their first part-time job, you probably didn’t give any thought to their right to workers’ compensation benefits. A lot of people only associate this coverage with construction workers or people engaged in other potentially dangerous work.
Teens, however, often have their first jobs in restaurants and stores where the risk of falls, burns, cuts and other injuries is greater than many people realize. Further, teens who work after school or only during summer and maybe other school breaks too often don’t get the same safety training as their full-time, year-round co-workers.
It’s hard to know the number of teens injured on the job every year because many of these injuries go unreported. Teens are typically more likely to minimize an injury – deciding to slap a bandage on it or “walk it off” – than their older co-workers. Nonetheless, it is undeniably not “zero” injured teens annually.
Protections under North Carolina law
Teens may fear that their hours will be cut if they report an injury or that they’ll be fired. Yet, it’s crucial to know that under North Carolina’s Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA), employers can’t retaliate against an employee for reporting a work injury or filing a worker’s comp claim. Further, in most cases, an employee can seek workers’ compensation even if they were at fault for the injury (assuming they didn’t intentionally injure themselves or were under the influence at the time they sustained harm).
Workers’ comp benefits are available to employees regardless of their age. Under North Carolina law, nearly every private employer with at least three employees is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp benefits extend to “minors, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed.” A minor is considered anyone under 18.
Employers owe their young workers a workplace that’s as safe as possible and the necessary training and equipment to keep themselves and others safe. Older co-workers or supervisors should never ask them to do things that are risky because they’re young and possibly more agile or because they may be willing to do things other employees won’t.
If your teen has suffered a work-related injury or illness and their employer is telling them they don’t have the right to file a workers’ comp claim or that they’ll lose their job if they do, it’s important for them to know and be able to assert their rights. It may be necessary to seek legal guidance to help protect them, accordingly.