Over 300 minors found working at 3 McDonald's franchisees: Department of Labor

Two 10-year-olds were among hundreds working in violation of federal labor law.

May 3, 2023, 10:29 PM

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) fined three McDonald's franchisees after an investigation determined that hundreds of children -- including two 10-year-olds -- were working there in violation of federal labor law.

The investigation was part of the Wage and Hour Division's efforts to end child labor abuses in the Southeast, the Labor Department said in a news release on Tuesday.

As part of their investigation, officials found that Louisville, Kentucky-based McDonald's franchisee operator, Bauer Food LLC, hired two10-year old's to work at one of its locations--unpaid--and as late as 2 a.m., with one of the children even permitted to operate a deep fryer, a task for which workers must be at least 16 years old.

“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 Labor Department said Tuesday.

Under Kentucky's child labor laws, minors younger than 14 years old are not allowed to work.

“Too often, employers fail to follow the child labor laws that protect young workers,” Louisville, Kentucky, Wage and Hour Division district director Karen Garnett-Civils, said in a statement. “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 three franchisees, Bauer Food LLC, Archways Richwood LLC and Bell Restaurant Group I LLC, run a combined 62 McDonald's locations in Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland and Ohio.

According to Bauer Food, the 10-year-olds were not employed at the company, but were a night manager's kids who were visiting them at work.

Bauer Food said that management did not approve of the kid's being in that part of the restaurant, adding that the company has made it clear to its employees this behavior is against policy, and addressed the policy regarding children visiting their parents at work.

Archways Richwood did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment. Bell Restaurant Group could not be reached for comment.

The investigation concluded that among the three franchisees, 305 minors were employed.

Signage is displayed outside a McDonald's Corp. fast food restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, Jan. 14, 2019.
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

The Department of Labor fined the businesses $212,544 in civil money penalties.

According to federal child labor rules, there are certain types of jobs that minors can work.

Kids who are 14 to 15 years old are limited to working no more than three hours on a school day, eight hours on non-school days. They also can't work over 18 hours during a school week, and can't work before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m., except between June 1 and Labor Day, the Labor Department said.

Archways Richwood LLC, Bauer Food LLC, and Bell Restaurant Group I LLC were in violation of having minors working hours beyond the legal limits, according to the Department of Labor.

According to Garnett-Civils, there has been an uptick in federal child labor violations, including instances where minors are operating equipment or doing dangerous work.

Tiffanie Boyd, senior vice president and chief people officer at McDonald’s USA, called the incidents "unacceptable" and "deeply troubling" and go against the company's " high expectations" it has for its brand.

"It is not lost on us the significant responsibility we carry to ensure a positive and safe experience for everyone under the Arches," Boyd told ABC News. "I know how important it is that every restaurant fosters a culture of safety. As a mother whose teenage son proudly worked at our local McDonald’s, I feel this on a very personal level. We are committed to ensuring our franchisees have the resources they need to foster safe workplaces for all employees and maintain compliance with all labor laws."

The Wage and Hour Division discovered that in the fiscal year 2022, nearly 700 children were illegally employed in hazardous jobs, which was the highest yearly count since 2011, the DOL said in a news release.

According to the Labor Department, a 15-year-old was hurt while using a deep fryer at a Morristown, Tennessee, McDonald's last year. The franchisee, Faris Enterprises of TN LLC, was fined over $3,000, DOL said in March.

Faris Enterprises did not immediately respond to a request fore comment.

In February, a DOL investigation found Packers Sanitation Services Inc., one of the nation's largest food safety sanitation services providers, illegally employed more than 100 children in dangerous work conditions across 13 sites in eight states.

The company's vice president of marketing, Gina Swenson, said in a statement at the time that the company has "a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18," according to the AP.

As soon as PSSI became aware of the allegations, she said, it conducted audits and hired an outside law firm to help strengthen its policies. PSSI has also conducted additional training for hiring managers, including on spotting identity theft, she said.

Following the investigation, the Biden Administration insisted last month that U.S. meat companies and suppliers ensure that minors aren't illegally hired to work dangerous jobs at their plants, according to the AP.

“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,” Garnett-Civils said.

ABC News' Noah Minnie contributed to this report.

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