Dangers of Working Alone–Sexual Assualt (article)

Should teens be left alone when working late hours?

September 19, 2008

BY DONNA VICKROY, Mike Nolan and Lauren FitzPatrick, Staff writers

[from Southtown Star, Chicago, Illinois: https://www.southtownstar.com/index.html]

Cathy Malchick summed up in four lines the Southland’s gut reaction to the kidnapping and rape of a 17-year-old who was left alone to close a Palos Heights sandwich shop Wednesday night.

“I’m shocked.”

Should teens such as this girl be allowed to work in public places by themselves? Tuesday night’s abduction and rape of a 17-year-old working at a Palos Heights sandwich shop has some asking that question. Federal child labor laws limit anyone younger than 18 from performing certain dangerous jobs, but they don’t restrict working alone. Illinois law limits work hours for teens younger than 16 and caps work hours on school nights for 16- and 17-year-olds.

“Where was the owner?”

“You just don’t leave a 17-year-old there to close a business by herself.”

“That poor girl.”

Malchick, a Tinley Park mother of three, may want to know that what the owner of T.J. Grinders did isn’t illegal. Nothing in federal or state child labor laws prevents a 17-year-old from working alone in a restaurant at 9 p.m.

Mark Holda, a father of four, told the SouthtownStar his young employee was very capable and comfortable locking up on her own and had done so for the past four months.

“I think the owner should be responsible for what happened to this young girl.”

Federal child labor law only limits anyone younger than 18 from performing certain dangerous jobs – like mining or demolition – and bans teens from using certain equipment – like forklifts and meat slicers. The feds don’t restrict teens from working at night without a co-worker or supervisor, according to the Department of Labor.

Illinois law limits work hours for teens younger than 16 and caps work hours on school nights for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Other states differ.

In Indiana, work stops for teens at 10 p.m. In Michigan, it’s 10:30 p.m. Washington state prohibits minors in service occupations such as restaurants and retail businesses from working without a supervisor after 8 p.m. Massachusetts also requires minors working after 8 p.m. to have a direct supervisor for safety reasons.

An ‘immediate rise factor’

Leaving a woman alone in a restaurant sets her up as a target because rapists always look to isolate victims, whether by taking them somewhere else, slipping them drugs or by taking advantage of their intoxication, said Paul A. Schewe, who studies rape prevention at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Research on Violence.

“Isolation is a big immediate risk factor. The guys don’t commit crimes when they think there’s a better chance of being caught,” Schewe said. “If she wasn’t working alone, she might have been protected.”

Yet there was nothing she could have done to foil a predator’s plans once he decided to attack her, Schewe said.

“Rape most often is a deliberate, premeditated kind of act, whether using alcohol or physical force or kidnapping,” Schewe said. “In the Palos Heights (case), it seems like he stalked out, scoped out this girl, found that she was working alone and vulnerable, so on that end he was doing a lot of preplanning.”

That’s why Chicago Ridge Police Chief Tim Baldermann, a father of five, said he wouldn’t allow his children to be working alone. He urges teen job applicants to inquire about safety conditions before accepting a job.

“Ask what hours you’ll be expected to work, if there will be lots of cash on hand, who will be working with you,” said Baldermann.

The Oak Lawn police’s community officer said his department gets calls from late-night employees asking an officer to make sure they get to their cars safely.

Pacetti said he believes the majority of businesses wouldn’t allow a teen employee to be alone, especially late at night.

Employee safety

Nonetheless, putting a teenager behind a retail counter seems like a safe thing to do, said Sally Greenberg, of the National Consumers League, which publishes an annual list of the five most dangerous jobs for teens.

“It’s a less obvious danger,” she said of minors working unsupervised. “It’s not a dangerous tool; it’s the danger of someone walking in and assaulting you, murdering you.”

Jo Ann McGowan, executive director of the Mokena Chamber of Commerce, said fast-food restaurants and other businesses in that village generally have more than one employee working at night. The issue of employee safety – particularly for younger, more vulnerable employees – is something the chamber should look at, she said. McGowan said she’d bring up at the chamber’s general membership meeting next week the suggestion of having Mokena police talk to the chamber about how businesses can safeguard younger workers.

Lenore Murphy worries about her two teenage daughters’ safety when they’re working at their part-time jobs, but the Tinley Park mother of three said she’s grateful the girls’ employers take measures to keep their employees safe. One daughter works at a local roller rink, and another works for a pizza/catering business.

They are never left alone on the job.

“One place has cameras, and the other place has off-duty cops on site, but, really, there are no guarantees however safe the environment is,” she said. “Unfortunately, this is the world we live in. Something like this could happen anywhere.”


About 80 percent of students are employed at some time during their high school years, experts say, and nearly 18 percent of them work at least 20 hours per week during the school year. Here are some tips for teens in the work force and their parents.


• What hours will your child be expected to work?

• Will there be overtime or off-site tasks?

• Who will be working with your child?

• Will your child work alone?

• Will there be an adult supervisor in the work area?

• Will your teen receive training in how to perform the job safely, including training related to emergency situations (escaping a fire, handling potentially violent customers, seeking help if injured, responding to crime)?

• Does the store have security measures in place?

• Will there be lots of cash on hand?

• Will your child personally be handling cash?


You have the right to refuse to work if you believe in good faith that the job or conditions are dangerous and are exposing you to imminent danger.

Call (800) 321-OSHA to report “imminent dangers.”

More information: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/teenworkers/rights.html


If your teen is considering a job in an unfamiliar neighborhood, contact the local police department to find out if there have been incidents in the area.


If you feel unsafe or threatened, police officials say, you should call 911 and ask for police.

SOURCES: Local police; the American Academy of Family Physicians; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration