British Columbia

In traditional and 'gig economy' jobs, experts say young workers need protection from abuse and injury

With the school year ending in B.C., many young people will be turning their attention to summer jobs. However, experts say young people are especially susceptible to both injuries and being taken advantage of by employers.

Experts want young workers to know their rights and for parents to ask questions

Young workers are more vulnerable to abuse and injuries, experts say. They say it's important for them to know their rights and be empowered to say something when they're being mistreated. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

With the school year ending in B.C., many young people will be turning their attention to summer jobs.

However, experts say young people are especially susceptible to injuries and being taken advantage of by employers.

And they need to know their rights.

"Young workers are, typically, more vulnerable to abuses," said Kelowna employment and human rights lawyer David Brown.

Brown said those abuses could include workers being denied the full benefits or see them placed in unsafe working conditions or even harassed at work.

"They may not be willing to bring forward a complaint out of concern they may be disciplined or they may be fired."

Brown says as young people begin their work lives, it's important for them to be empowered to stand up for themselves — especially if working in the so-called gig economy.

Many young people will be getting their first work experience now that school is out for the summer. (Don Pittis/CBC)

An employee by any other name?

Brown says many young people find work in the gig economy, which often replaces full-time employment with contracts.

He worries about how some companies rely on contractors to avoid obligations to workers like severance pay, for instance.

"A contractor is typically going to have a lot of leeway, a lot of control over the relationship they have with their client while an employee is going to follow the instructions of their supervisor," he explained.

"That person filling the role of the receptionist has very little control over her job, and the way she is to perform her job. This is a job normally performed by an employee."

Employment tribunals might realize the worker is a de facto employee in these situations, Brown said, but they have to receive a complaint before taking action.

A contract worker, he said, especially a young one, may never make a complaint for fear of having their contract terminated.

Physical safety concerns as well

Young people's involvement in the gig economy is a concern for provincial authorities as well because they have less time to get accustomed to their new job.

"They might not have the opportunity to find out who is their worker representative, who is on the [health and safety] committee," said Angelique Prince with WorkSafeBC.

WorkSafeBC says the largest number of injuries reported come from the service sector but the construction industry sees the most serious injuries. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Prince said young workers — those aged 15-24 — are more likely than others to be injured on the job.

In the last five years, 3,600 young workers have been seriously injured. Between 2013 and 2017, 21 young workers have been killed on the job. Most injuries, WorkSafe says, happen within the first six months on a job.

Parents can help

Prince and Brown agree that empowerment, whether working a traditional job or a gig economy job, is key to keeping young workers safe and ensuring their rights are respected.

Prince says parents can help keep children safer by having conversations about their new jobs: have you had an orientation? Have you been shown how to do the work? Were any questions left unanswered?

When a child gets a new job, parents can help them keep safe by asking question about their work, WorkSafeBC says. (Daniel M Ernst/Shutterstock)

"Young workers are more likely to take a wait-and-see approach," Prince said. "They can often identify there's a hazard, but they're less likely to speak out."

Brown said young workers need to know, no matter the employment situation, they are guaranteed certain rights: to be paid at least minimum wage and in most cases, overtime pay; severance pay; and statutory holidays and paid vacation.

Critically, he added, they should also refuse unsafe work and report any injuries on the job.

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Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is an award-winning journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten.