These Major Restaurants Paid Big for Breaking Child Labor Laws

Multiple fast food chains violated child labor laws this past year.

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For many teenagers, a job flipping burgers is their first introduction into the workforce. Unfortunately, in 2022 it was also many minors’ first experience being overworked and exploited by a company.

From working late hours to operating dangerous machinery, fast food chains had trouble adhering to child labor laws throughout 2022. Considering the long-standing labor shortage that has plagued the restaurant industry since 2021, it’s not surprising that many chains would turn to teenagers as a way to deal. Plainly put, teenagers are more willing to work for cheap and are less familiar with what an employer should and should not ask of them.

Common child labor law violations at restaurants

Child labor laws vary by state, but generally the idea is that children under the age of 14 cannot be hired and teenagers that are hired can only work certain hours. For example, most child labor laws do not allow those under 18 to work more than 40 hours per week or past a certain time of night like 7 p.m. or 9 p.m. in the summer time.

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“Child labor laws ensure that when young people work, the work does not jeopardize their health, well-being, or educational opportunities,” said Richard Blaylock, a Department of Labor director in North Carolina in a statement regarding a recent investigation.

The most recent chain to be slapped with a fine for its violations is a Chick-fil-A located in North Carolina, reports USA Today. The restaurant had to pay a $6,450 fine and $235 in back wages for not only allowing employees under 18 years old to operate a trash compactor but also for paying those employees in meal vouchers rather than actual wages. Free meals on the job are a great perk, but they’re certainly not equivalent to an actual paycheck.

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Although only this one Chick-fil-A location was guilty of trying to pay kids in chicken sandwiches, other food chains have taken advantage of their teen employees in different ways this year. Crumbl, the cookie-focused bakery chain, recently had to pay $57,854 in penalties for its child labor violations across six states. The bakery chain had minor-aged employees working more than the 40 hours per week that is allowed by law. Plus, teens were allowed to operate hazardous machinery such as the industrial ovens used in professional kitchens.

Earlier this year both Dairy Queen and Chipotle were also found to have violated child labor laws across multiple states. Both brands paid large fines and and Chipotle also agreed to implement a plan meant to keep the chain compliant with child labor laws moving forward.

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Coming into a job as a teen with no prior work experience puts you in position to accept whatever pay you can get, as well as whatever work conditions accompany that. That vulnerability combined with the need to fill schedules and make a profit are likely what has led to the uptick in child labor violations. Hopefully, after paying thousands of dollars in fines and back pay chains will have learned their lesson before heading into 2023 with overworked kids as the driving force behind their kitchens.