Ah, work. A teenager’s first venture into the “real” world. In this instance, it isn’t the law motivating us to spend eight hours a day doing everything our superiors tell us; it’s a minimum of wage $8.15 an hour. But, sometimes, not even money can be enough to make some jobs enjoyable.
When I started my first job, I had an endless supply of positive energy because I felt independent. I drove to work on my own, earned my own money and received perks for a job I was sure I was going to love. But, slowly, I began to hate the very place I wanted to be a part of so bad.
Since this was my first job, I wasn’t aware of all the labor laws for minors and the required breaks. So, when I looked at the back of my time card, I was surprised to see that in Ohio it is required for minors to have at least a 30-minute break every five hours.
This law seemed reasonable, but what suddenly made sense was my schedule. Looking at the weeks ahead, I saw that almost every day I was scheduled to work for seven or more hours—but never 10. Most professional jobs work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., a total of eight hours, including an hour break for lunch. For me, I would work 9.5 hours with a 30-minute break. Despite how terrible this sounds, it’s very legal.
Working these kinds of hours during the hottest months of the year, out in the sun, was miserable. This is also completely different from the other environments at conventional jobs employees work; there, they get to sit inside in the air conditioning and have hour-long lunches. Not to mention, they definitely don’t walk out of work with a serious sunburn, no matter how much sunscreen they put on.
These experiences are not new to some teenagers with jobs because employers use teens for unskilled labor, allowing the valued employees to accomplish more intricate tasks. They are seen as expendable due to their imminent departure to college and into specialized jobs. Despite this, all employees—even teenagers—should be treated as human beings, not working machines. Everybody has their limit, which should be respected and a constant concern for employers.
Even though I feel as if my limit was reached, I know that I didn’t walk out there with entirely negative experiences. I made friends, and we laughed about school, significant others and the weather. I learned how to deal with customers who were upset with actions unrelated to my own, and apologized anyway. But most importantly, I learned that my time is valuable. Every day, I was either making around $80 or spending time with my family. Only one of those options could buy a burger, but the other one buys happiness. So, at the end of the day, I had to ask myself: do I want money or happiness?