“Give me a break!”: Why do bosses think they’re above the law just because they employ students?

It may sound like I’m stating the obvious but every employee has rights. If you’re taking up part-time work on the side of your studies this term, remember this: No employer should conduct themselves as above those rights or the law.

There is a reason workers rights were put in place: to ensure that workers are treated fairly and are not exploited by the “higher ups”. We all have a work-related horror story. Many of us have not been paid enough by our employers. Others have been treated poorly by the management, been refused breaks, or were made to work in unsafe and unsuitable conditions.

Some people tell us that working a shitty part-time job is part of growing up. They inform us that we’ll learn from the experience, no matter how awful. But I can’t agree. I’ve worked part-time jobs for five years now, since I was fifteen. While some jobs were great jobs, I’ve also had some unjustifiably horrific ones. Surely we are all deserving of fair wages, compliance with the law in terms of workers rights, and a non-hostile and safe working environment, right

Apparently not. Consider the multiple employers who barely acknowledge their workers as humans, let alone comply with employment law and workers rights. According to a ten-year O. C. Tanner survey, 79% of 200,000 people consulted stated that they left a job – or multiple jobs – due to a lack of appreciation by their manager and the employer. “Lack of appreciation” can mean a number of things. But undoubtedly treating us well and giving us access to basic workers’ rights is part of “appreciating” your staff member.

Students: Don’t let yourselves be exploited

Frequently, the employees that suffer from this behaviour are students. We’re often fresh out of school or university, or just plain young, and employers don’t expect us to know better. It’s absolutely ridiculous to treat people like they’re machines. We all deserve dignity. Remember this: ultimately, it’s our employers who’ve failed if they don’t recognise that staff should be treated well.

No one is above the law, whether you’re a thief, a business owner or a self-proclaimed entrepreneur. It is my fervent belief that in order to run a successful business, you must comply with the law and the responsibilities accorded to you. Restaurants and shops must have liquor licenses to sell alcohol and must ensure that they aren’t selling to Under-18s. Every business I’ve worked for has complied fully to this regulation. So why can’t my boss give me a break? 

Photo credit: Petteri Sulonen, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence, with modifications.

Would you like to write a reply? Email the opinion editor at david.dahlborn.13 [at] ucl.ac.uk

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