Help your teenager understand health risks, insurance at first job

The one thing parents forget to tell their teens before a new job

Whenever I heard a man’s voice loudly yell “Why?!” on my college campus, I knew who it was. I’d gotten the nickname from a college peer because he told me I just would not stop interrogating people and challenging their views. He wasn’t wrong. I have been a “Why?!” kid since kindergarten. As annoying as it may have been to family and friends, I’ve made a career out of learning about people and testing certain views on any given topic.

Photo credit: OpenClipart-Vectors/Pixabay

But the one time I really needed to embrace the investigative side of my personality, I was too much in a panic to do so. This happened during my first job in Corporate America.

This summer job, in which I worked in the clerical unit of a state department building, I bought an entire collection of business attire. I felt fancy in my pants and skirt suits, hustling my way around in downtown Chicago.

Filing, faxing, copying and pulling documents were my day-to-day activities. In today’s digital world, this probably wouldn’t be an issue, but 16-year-old me was paid to organize documents in file folders for majority of my day. And one particular file cabinet had a microfiche machine on top of it that was never plugged in. I would see it sit kinda shaky on top of the file cabinet but never spoke up about it.

While file cabinets nowadays — if used at all — have a locking mechanism so you cannot open one drawer without closing the others, this one allowed me to open multiple drawers at once. And when two heavily stuffed drawers forced the file cabinet to lean on me, my first reaction was to shove it back onto the wall. The force of me making sure the file cabinet didn’t fall on top of me made that shaky microfiche machine come sliding forward. In that split second, I had two choices — let the open drawers go and risk the file cabinet falling completely on me or let that microfiche machine hit my face. I turned my head to the side and braced for the impact. That microfiche machine slammed into my jaw and the bottom lid of my eye.

I felt that machine hit my face, but I did not cry. I didn’t even yell. But the sound of it made multiple employees come running in to find out what happened. Within seconds, I was given a bag of ice, ordered to sit down, and handed a pen and paper to sign a pile of documents. The supervisor of this temporary job told me I needed to fill out all of these forms confirming that it was my fault that this machine fell on my face.

With one hand on my cheek and the other on those papers, I signed the documents. I never bothered to ask why an attorney came in to confirm every single document was signed, stating that I was the one at fault for the unlocked file cabinet or the microfiche machine not securely put in a secure, lower location. I thought it was odd that workers put that same unplugged microfiche machine back on the same file cabinet, knowing full well that it could happen again.

I went home and told my parents what had happened, including that I signed paperwork taking ownership of an accident (that could’ve easily been avoided). While I do wonder why my parents didn’t question the legality of a minor signing off on legal documents, the fact that my face looked exactly the same probably helped. And none of us are the sue-happy type. I was offered a few days off, but I believe I went to work the next day. After all, temp jobs don’t have paid off days. If you don’t work, you do not get paid. And I was saving up to buy new clothes and other (meaningless) things for my junior year of high school.


I thought about this incident while reading a report from The Intercept regarding an Amazon employee who was struck with a falling object. Instead of Amazon’s medical staff immediately sending the injured worker to a hospital or doctor’s office for a full evaluation — or even offering to send the employee in for a physical — they did neither. Instead, Amcare, the company’s on-site medical unit, felt they could take care of it. An employee with a fractured finger and another employee with an eye injury were allegedly denied requests to go to the hospital.

Photo credit: ghcassel/Pixabay

In my case, I visited my optometrist immediately, who insisted that I see an eye specialist for the next three years. My parents paid for each eye exam with their own insurance. The company paid for nothing. Why should they? I’d already signed the paperwork relieving them of all health and legal obligations.

I cannot compare the eye exams to childbirth or anything of that magnitude of pain, but those annual visits were the worst doctor’s appointments I have ever had in my entire life. There’s nothing quite so bizarre as a health professional purposely using an instrument to push your eye out of its socket to see it better. Fun fact: I also found out the pressure used to do this will make the entire room go dark — even though your eye is open. I couldn’t even blame my mother for turning her head away so she didn’t have to watch me struggle to sit still during this.

While my eyes are fine today — if you don’t count the astigmatism or needing glasses since third grade — and I never had to go back to that eye specialist after those three annual exams, that one instance made me pay way more attention to Occupational Safety and Health Administration paperwork at any job from that point forward. Interviewing lawyers over the years, including a co-writing legal blog, made me fully understand how the company covered itself against any potential wrongdoing by taking advantage of a teenager on her first job.

I’d been convinced that I was in the wrong without fully understanding the clear OSHA violations regarding this company. Lawyers, supervisors and other workers standing over me to make sure I signed the paperwork made me want to get this situation over with as quickly as possible. All I wanted to do was work; I was not interested in all of this extra attention.

But the one thing I wish my parents would’ve told me before taking on any new job was this: Never sign any paperwork that you do not understand and always understand the health coverage of the company. Just as a company checks you out to make sure you can sufficiently perform a job, make sure that that company can take care of you in the event of an emergency. Ask “Why?!” when you don’t know what something means. And if you can’t get a satisfactory answer — one you clearly understand and believe — step back and talk to an adult first.


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Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

15-year vegetarian journalist/editor; Wag! dog walker; Rover dog sitter; Toastmasters member and 5x officer; WERQ dance enthusiast; Visit Shamontiel.com

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If you’re into retail and food news, business tips and Internet shopping, read on.

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