School is officially out, which means teens everywhere will be flooding the seasonal job market, looking to make a little extra money slinging burgers, pulling shots and walking dogs. They don't expect to make a whole lot of cash at these endeavors, just a little something extra for a few fun outings or to save up for a bigger purchase, like a car. Still, every cent counts, whether you're a teenager or an adult.
That's why when a Kansas teenager found out she was making a quarter less an hour than her male co-worker — even though they were the same age with the same amount of experience — she brought it to her boss's attention, thinking he'd want to fix the flub. She ended up getting fired instead, and this is extremely not OK.
In fact, there's tons of stuff about this story that fall squarely into the category of jacked up, beginning with the fact that the teen, whose name is Jensen Walcott, was being paid $8 an hour while her male co-worker was making $8.25. That's bad enough, because it suggests the trend of women being paid less for doing the same thing as their male co-workers begins as young as 17, which is how old both Walcott and her co-worker are.
But when the teen brought the discrepancy to her employer's attention, they fired both her and her male friend, Jake Reed, for discussing wages at work. Prohibiting talk about wages is a popular practice, and it's always been an ethically murky one. Ever since 2014, however, it's also an unenforceable and illegal one thanks to an executive order from President Obama that bars employers from retaliating against employees seeking fair wages.
Both of those things are equally disturbing, but arguably the worst part of all of this is that we are regularly telling our children to do the right thing. That's what it appears the two friends were doing. Walcott and Reed were already friends, so it's completely natural to assume they would talk about what was going into their paychecks. That Reed was upfront with his friend about how she was getting the short stick is commendable, and it means he did the right thing.
Then Walcott did what any employee with a brain would do: She stood up for her best interests and asked them to take the reasonable and ethically correct course and pay both her and her co-worker the same amount of money for exactly the same work. She also did the right thing.
They both were punished for it.
It doesn't have to stay that way. Pizza Studio, the teens' employer, was definitely in the wrong here, according to a labor attorney who spoke to a local news outlet after Walcott came forward. If she wanted to, she could seek recourse for herself and for her friend, and we hope she does.
Teaching our kids to do the right thing can sometimes seem like an uphill battle, especially in cases like this, where speaking out against inequality lands them in trouble. But we need to keep sending the message. It is seriously encouraging that Walcott at least recognizes that what her employer did was wrong. When we raise kids who understand inequity and that they're responsible for calling it out when they see it, we make it possible for them to stick up not just for themselves but for others as well.
That's important. It's important that the next generation looks out both for their best interests and the interests of those who may not feel safe coming forward for a variety of reasons. It means our kids might be able to accomplish what we might not in our lifetime, which is to do away with this kind of crap.
It might feel a little disheartening that the moral compass in this story were not the adults but two teens. But it shouldn't. It means that something we're saying is sticking, and if every kid speaks up the way these two did, we have a whole lot to be thankful for.
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