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Chick-fil-A Caught Trying to Pay Teen Workers With Food, Having Children Operate Dangerous Machinery

a Chick-fil-A restaurant in North Carolina is shown.

Hendersonville, N.C. Chick-fil-A

A Chick-fil-A restaurant in North Carolina will have to pay almost $7,000 after it was caught having child employees operate dangerous machinery and trying to pay teen employees in meal vouchers.

After an investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) found that “Good Name 22:1 LLC of Hendersonville, N.C.,” the corporate name for a Chick-fil-A location, allowed three workers under the age of 18 to “operate, load or unload a trash compactor.” Because operating certain machinery is especially hazardous, federal child labor laws prohibit minors entirely from operating such equipment as part of their jobs.

The dangerous work was not this particular restaurant’s only violation, either. The DOL also found that the same employer “also paid certain employees — who were asked to direct traffic — to work for meal vouchers rather than wages.” The substitute of meal vouchers for payment of $235 constitutes a separate violation of minimum wage provisions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. In addition to the civil penalties assessed, the employer will have to pay back wages to those employees.

Several Twitter users have shared screenshots of now-deleted Facebook posts by the Hendersonville Chick-fil-A that may have led to the DOL investigation. “We are looking for volunteers for our new Drive Thru Express! Earn 5 free entrees per shift (1hr) worked. Message us for details,” one post reportedly said.

The use of a “volunteer” program to extract child labor and pay participants in food rather than wages is illegal under federal law.

“Protecting our youngest workers continues to be a top priority for the Wage and Hour Division,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Richard Blaylock in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Child labor laws ensure that when young people work, the work does not jeopardize their health, well-being or educational opportunities. In addition, employers are responsible to pay workers for all of the hours worked and the payment must be made in cash or legal tender.”

The North Carolina findings are not the first time a Chick-fil-A has violated federal child labor laws. In August 2022, a Tampa, Florida location paid $12,478 in DOL penalties after investigators found the employer allowed 17 of its minor workers to work past 7 p.m. and for more than 3 hours during school days.

The chicken chain is not the only fast food giant to be caught exploiting child labor.  In December 2022, a Pennsylvania McDonald’s was fined nearly $60,000 for violations of wages-and-hours laws applicable to its teen workers.

In the past, Chick-fil-A has come under fire for its long-held policy of donating to anti-LGBTQ+ groups. The company’s decisions propelled boycotts across the nation and a 2019 decision by the City of San Antonio to remove the restaurant from a list of approved concessions at an airport. In response, Texas Democrats and Republicans sparred over the “Save Chick-fil-A bill.” The company changed its policy in 2020 when it announced that future donations would be split among organizations that promote youth education, combat youth homelessness, and fight hunger.

Law&Crime reached out to both Chick-fil-A’s corporate headquarters as well as the management of the individual Hendersonville, NC location. Neither responded in time for publication.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos