This week, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that a popular fast food chain will pay over $71 thousand in fines for over 170 child labor violations across six locations. The DOL’s investigation included locations across Nevada. Overall, from 2018 to 2022, the DOL identified child labor violations in more than 4,000 cases that affected 15,000 employed children. In January 2023, as part of its annual inflation adjustments for civil monetary penalties, the DOL increased fines for violations of child labor provisions from $14,050 to $15,138 per each child employee subject to a violation.

Background of the Child Labor Violations

According to DOL investigators, the fast food chain allowed child workers under 16 to operate fryers without automatic fry baskets. Normally, automated fry baskets are used to automatically move food in and out of hot oil and grease. The law prohibits employers from assigning hazardous job tasks, such as operating manual deep fryers, to minors. Additional child labor violations included denied overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek and prohibited work hours. Specifically, the fast food chain employed 14- and 15-year-old children illegally based on the following:

  • Assigning shifts before 7 A.M. and later than 7 P.M. on days between Labor Day and June 1 and later than 9 P.M. on days between June 1 and Labor Day.
  • Scheduling children for more than three hours per day on school days, more than 18 hours a week during a school week, more than eight hours on a non-school day, and more than 40 hours during a non-school week.

Finally, investigators found that the chain hired one 13-year-old employee, under the legal age for employment in non-agricultural jobs.

Child Labor Provisions Under the FLSA

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides for several federal wage and hour standards and is one of five commonly cited employment laws that all employers should familiarize themselves with. Child labor provisions under the FLSA ensure that when young people work, assigned job tasks are safe and do not jeopardize their well-being or educational opportunities. Outside of the agricultural industry, children under the age of 14 are prohibited from employment. In non-agricultural jobs like the restaurant industry, workers who are 14 and 15 years old may not:

  • Bake or perform most cooking;
  • Work in freezers or meat coolers; and
  • Operate power-driven food slicers, grinders, choppers, and mixers.

The FLSA also restricts the hours minors may work.

Penalties for the Violations

For the more than 170 child labor violations, the fast food chain paid $71,182 in civil money penalties. In addition, the DOL recovered $274 in overtime back wages and liquidated damages for two child workers denied overtime pay. In 2022, to prevent child labor violations like these, the DOL published the online resource “Seven Child Labor Best Practices for Employers.” It includes key tips to help employers provide youth workforce and developmental experiences without violating child labor law provisions.