You Think I Make Minimum Wage?: A warning on how teens are being exploited in the workplace.


Anyone who’s had to work a minimum wage job knows that it is one of the most soul-crushing things millions of people have to resort to. You work a shitty job during shitty hours for even shittier pay. This is horrible for anyone to be subjected to because they are exploited at every turn. However, some groups are much more easily manipulated than others – particularly children.

Picture this: You’re finally of age to get a job. You’re already trying to keep up with school, extracurriculars, and getting into college, but if you wanna be able to get lunch with your friends, you gotta get a job. You get accepted and everything seems great- so it must be, right? Heed these warnings before you or your teen work their first job.


They will screw up your schedule

Let’s start out easy. Your schedule will likely not be consistent. Even if you’re told you will work a certain number of hours or shifts a week, your boss can decide not to bring you in one week or demand you work more the next. Unless you’re exceptionally lucky, your boss will not see you so much as a person than a commodity. You are numbers to them, and you should be prepared to be treated as such. You will be at their mercy, and there’s not much you can do about it.

Because of this, it’s important to maintain communication with your coworkers to navigate trading shifts. While there might not always be someone willing to cover for you, your boss is more likely to accommodate a conflict if it doesn’t arise often. Additionally, if your boss asks you to come in on a day you’re not scheduled for, you are not obligated to offer them a full explanation. It is important to maintain boundaries and not necessarily say more than “I can’t, I’m busy” or “I’m sick and can’t come in.”


Employers blame employees

“The customer is always right.” We’ve all heard it. Customers can be mean, whatever- we gotta put up with it, it’s to be expected. What you might not know is that some employers will dock your paycheck for any mistakes that are made that result in a loss of profit. That means that if you work at a restaurant and forget to tell the chefs they didn’t want chocolate chips in their pancakes, you may have to pay the full price to replace the dish (probably more than your hourly wage). Be weary if your employer has a similar policy.

If they do, it’s important to be extra vigilant. I always read orders back to the customer after taking it. That way, even if they miss something that’s wrong, I have the plausible deniability that this is what I read back to them and it is therefore not my fault. While it takes a little bit longer, it’s important to cover your ass.


You may not make what you think you’re making

Particularly if you are working as a tipped employee (like a server, barista, etc.), you may not even make minimum wage. Tipped employees are entitled to much less money from their employer regardless of how much they make in tips. Exactly how much depends on the state you live in, but you can expect to be making at least a few dollars less per hour, even if you receive 0 tips (as long as your employer gives you a tip jar).

If you’re applying for a job that might receive tips, make sure to ask if this is the wage you earn inclusive of tips or not. If it is, ask what the wage is not including projected tips. It also helps to get as much of this in writing as possible.


Your job description is not complete

This one might be less shocking, but is important to keep in mind nonetheless. When you are told what your job responsibilities are, be expected to have to do some things that aren’t on the list. Again, you are a commodity to your employer and need to do what you’re asked (within reason), so be prepared to adapt.

There really is no solution for this, so just like your job description, this section will remain incomplete.


Sexual Harassment

This is something often not discussed in regards to teens, however, one could argue that young people are even more vulnerable to being the target of sexual harassment from employers or customers. “One study of high school students who held part-time jobs found that 2 in 3 girls and 1 in 3 boys reported being sexually harassed at work. The majority reported that they were harassed by co-workers (61 percent), followed by supervisors (19 percent), and customers (18 percent)” (Teen Experiences with Workplace Sexual Harassment). These figures are even more horrifying when you consider how much goes unreported.

I’d strongly recommend to anyone, especially if you have to walk home alone, getting a self defense app. I use Noonlight, which sends an alarm to authorities if you take your finger off the button and don’t type in your pin. I have experienced explicitly inappropriate comments, uncomfortable (not inherently sexually suggestive) touching, and even had things thrown at me jokingly to tease me all in my one place of work at the age of 16. Harassment is unfortunately extremely common, so try to prepare yourself.



Whether it’s your first or your fifth, getting a job can be exciting and exploitative systems shouldn’t take that away from you. While this list can seem very overwhelming, it’s important to maintain a balance I’ve heard referred to as “alert not anxious.” Keeping an eye out for unethical treatment and saying something if you are able is extremely important for protecting yourself both now and in the future. All you can do is your best, even if that’s not enough.