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Child Labor Violations Soaring; Fast-food Franchises in the DOL’s Crosshairs

In a recent study conducted by The Washington Post (“The Post”), it was revealed that during the first nine months of 2023, over three-quarters of all child labor violations in the United States occurred in the food service sector.  The majority of these violations were identified in franchisee-owned brands such as Sonic, Chick-fil-A, Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, Little Caesars, Zaxby’s, and Wendy’s.

The statistics show child labor violations have tripled since 2013 and have increased six-fold within the food service sector. In the first nine months of 2023, there were more than 4,700 cases of minors working in violation of federal child labor laws.

The Post speculates that the post-COVID-19 labor shortages have caused some fast-food companies to resort to illegal scheduling practices that compel teenagers to work late and/or extended hours while also requiring minors to operate hazardous kitchen equipment.  Specific examples of misconduct include companies hiring children aged 13 or younger and having 14- and 15-year-olds work past 7 p.m. and for more than three hours on school nights, all in direct violation of federal law.

A key point raised in The Post’s study is that brands using a franchise business model experience significantly higher rates of violations than those operating their own stores. For instance, McDonald’s, which is predominantly operated by franchisees, averaged 15 violations per 100 stores since 2020, with no violations found at its corporate-owned stores.

Some labor experts believe that franchised chains experience higher rates of violations than corporate-run chains because they are under immense pressure to keep labor costs low, particularly to offset steep operating costs, including franchise fees. In contrast, restaurant brands that do not use the franchise model, such as Starbucks, Chipotle, Panda Express, Cracker Barrel, In-N-Out Burger, Shake Shack, Sweetgreen, White Castle, and Boston Market, have seen only 32 federal child labor violations at corporate-owned locations since 2013, according to The Post.

To combat this alarming trend, the Biden administration has launched an initiative to crack down on child labor violators. However, these efforts are hamstrung by the fact that the agency tasked with enforcing child labor laws is faced with a near-record low number of investigators. In stark contrast to President Biden’s efforts to combat child labor violations, five states are currently considering extending the hours or times of day that teens can legally work. The pendulum seems to be swinging in both directions!

Brody and Associates regularly advises management on complying with the latest local, state, and federal employment laws.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.