LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Working in a kitchen late at night near dangerous cooking equipment is a reality for many adults in the food service industry.
But finding 10-year-old kids in such a work environment is a cause for concern and action by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Investigators from the department’s Wage and Hour Division found two 10-year-old workers at a Louisville McDonald’s restaurant among many violations of federal labor laws committed by three Kentucky McDonald’s franchise operators. The investigations are part of the division’s ongoing effort to stop child labor abuses in the Southeast region.
The division investigated Bauer Food LLC, Archways Richwood LLC and Bell Restaurant Group I LLC – three separate franchisees that operate a total of 62 McDonald’s locations across Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland and Ohio – and found they employed 305 children to work more than the legally permitted hours and perform tasks prohibited by law for young workers. In all, the investigations led to assessments of $212,744 in civil money penalties against the employers.
“Too often, employers fail to follow the child labor laws that protect young workers,” explained Wage and Hour Division District Director Karen Garnett-Civils in Louisville, Kentucky. “Under no circumstances should there ever be a 10-year-old child working in a fast-food kitchen around hot grills, ovens and deep fryers.”
The division’s investigations found the following:
- Bauer Food LLC, a Louisville-based operator of 10 McDonald’s locations, employed 24 minors under age 16 to work more than legally permitted hours. These children sometimes worked more hours a day or week than the law permits, whether or not school is in session. Investigators also determined two 10-year-old children were employed – but not paid – and sometimes worked as late as 2 a.m. Below the minimum age for employment, they prepared and distributed food orders, cleaned the store, worked at the drive-thru window and operated a register. The division also learned that one of the two children was allowed to operate a deep fryer, a prohibited task for workers under 16 years old. The division assessed $39,711 in civil money penalties to address the child labor violations.
- Archways Richwood LLC – a Walton-based operator of 27 McDonald’s locations – allowed 242 minors between age 14 and 15 to work beyond the allowable hours. Most worked earlier or later in the day than the law permits and more than three hours on school days. The division assessed the employer with $143,566 in civil money penalties for their violations.
- Bell Restaurant Group I LLC is a Louisville-based operator of four McDonald’s locations and part of Brdancat Management Inc., a larger enterprise that includes Jesse Bell I, Jesse Bell V and Bell Restaurant Group II, which operates an additional 20 locations in Maryland, Indiana and Kentucky. The division found the employer allowed 39 workers – ages 14 and 15 – to work outside of and for more hours than the law permits. Some of these children worked more than the daily and weekly limits during school days and school weeks, and the employer allowed two of them to work during school hours. To address the child labor violations, the division assessed the employer $29,267 in civil money penalties. Investigators also found the employer systemically failed to pay workers overtime wages they were due and as a result, the division recovered $14,730 in back wages and liquidated damages for 58 workers.
Federal child labor regulations limit the types of jobs minor-aged employees can perform and the hours they can work. Hours limits for 14- and 15-year-olds include:
- Work must be performed outside of school hours.
- No more than 3 hours on a school day – including Fridays – and no more than 8 hours on a non-school day.
- No more than 18 hours during a school week and no more than 40 hours during a non-school week.
- No earlier than 7 a.m. and no later than 7 p.m., except between June 1 and Labor Day when the evening hour is extended to 9 p.m.
“We are seeing an increase in federal child labor violations, including allowing minors to operate equipment or handle types of work that endangers them or employs them for more hours or later in the day than federal law allows,” said Garnett-Civils. “An employer who hires young workers must know the rules. An employer, parent or young worker with questions can contact us for help understanding their obligations and rights under the law.”
While most cases with child labor violations involve minors working more and later than the law permits, the division found 688 minors employed illegally in hazardous occupations in fiscal year 2022, the highest annual count since fiscal year 2011. Among those was a 15-year-old minor injured while using a deep fryer at a McDonald’s in Morristown, Tennessee in June 2022.
“One child injured at work is one too many. Child labor laws exist to ensure that when young people work, the job does not jeopardize their health, well-being or education,” added Garnett-Civils.