Sonic Franchise Operator Fined Over Child Labor Violations

Dozens of teens were allowed to work excessive hours.

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NEWTON, Kan. – For many teens, working at a fast-food restaurant is a first job. For 50 teens – ages 14 and 15 – working at three Sonic drive-in locations near Wichita – that meant being employed in excess of the number of hours allowed by child labor laws and during nighttime hours not permitted by law, a U.S. Department of Labor investigation has found. 

The department’s Wage and Hour Division found BBR Investments LLC based in Newton, owner of 17 Sonic locations in Kansas, permitted minors at the three of its restaurants to consistently work more than 3 hours on a school day, more than 18 hours in a school week, and more than 8 hours on a non-school day. The employer also allowed them to work later than 7 p.m. during the school year, and later than 9 p.m. from June 1 through Labor Day. All of these employment practices violate child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The division assessed $41,998 in civil money penalties for violations at the drive-in locations in Newton, Hutchinson, and McPherson.

“Federal child labor laws allow for youth employment but specify when and how long these young people can work, and what hazardous occupations must be avoided so their safety and well-being are never compromised,” explained Wage and Hour Division District Director Reed Trone in Kansas City, Missouri. “BBR Investments could have avoided costly penalties by making sure they followed the law.”

The division found violations at the following Sonic locations:

  • 215 N. Main St., Newton — $24,956
  • 621 E. 4th St., Hutchinson — $9,702
  • 10 E. Kansas Ave., McPherson — $7,340

The FLSA prohibits 14- and 15-year-old employees from working later than 9 p.m. from June 1 through Labor Day and past 7 p.m., the remainder of the year. Additionally, they cannot work more than 3 hours on a school day, 8 hours on a non-school day or more than 18 hours per week. The law also prohibits minors from operating motor vehicles, forklifts and using other hazardous equipment.

In 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that young workers between 16 and 19 years old comprised nearly 12 percent of the nation’s workforce. As businesses fill job openings with minors new to the workforce, it is essential that employers understand and comply with child labor rules.

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