Now that the summer is finally here, many of you may find your workplace peppered with summer student or recent grad employees. In fact, hiring students for the summer may be a good business strategy not only to fill human resources gaps created by employee vacations, but also to invest in a potential future workforce and to take advantage of government subsidies which may be available to help to fund student positions. Although it is likely too late to take advantage of subsidy programs this summer, employer may want to review the many wage subsidy programs available, and the deadlines for the programs, at the Canada Business Network website.
Employers should review the employment standard provisions for the jurisdiction in which they operate for the rules and regulations pertaining to minimum wages, hours of work restrictions, or even regulations regarding allowable types of work for young people. Employers should also ensure that even though young employees may in some cases, be temporary employees, all employees must be trained in accordance with the law. Ensure that all employees are trained with respect to privacy, human rights provisions, and/or customer service standards, where applicable (in Ontario under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act).
Despite the many positive outcomes resulting from the hiring of summer students, statistics show that young workers are particularly vulnerable to workplace accidents. Much has been written about the “teenage brain” in the last few years and scientists have concluded that the frontal lobe of the brain doesn’t fully mature until the age of 25. The frontal lobe is key in judgment, impulse control and reasoning, all important factors in assessing workplace hazards. Employers have a responsibility, both ethically and legally, to ensure that young workers are adequately trained and supervised to eliminate or reduce any risks to their health and safety.
In all provinces employers have the general duty to protect the health and safety of their workers. Some provinces have specific requirements for young workers. In British Columbia for example, “young worker” is defined as any worker under the age of 25, and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation states that “an employer must ensure that before a young or new worker begins work in a workplace, the young or new worker is given health and safety orientation and training specific to that young or new worker’s workplace.” Saskatchewan requires that “youth” must show evidence that they have completed a work readiness certificate prior to employment. “Youth” for this purpose is defined as “a person who is 14 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age.” Many provinces also have some restrictions on the types of work that can be performed by young people, or the conditions in which young people can work, and employers are advised to ensure they are familiar with the rules in province in which they operate.
Employers should review their policies with young people in mind to determine whether adequate provisions are in place to address the vulnerabilities of young workers. Any employer who hires young people should make this a specific agenda item for the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative. At a minimum, however, employers should be sure that young workers are provided with the following health and safety considerations:
- health and safety awareness training, including their rights to refuse unsafe work;
- adequate training about the hazards and risks of the specific job and workplace in which the young person is working, including how to recognize and respond to potential violent situations;
- adequate supervision;
- an open process under which the young person is encouraged to some forward to ask questions or address concerns about health and safety matters;
- adequate and properly worn personal protective equipment;
- Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) training.