WASHINGTON — Children as young as 10 were found working past midnight at a McDonald’s restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, the U.S. Department of Labor said in announcing numerous civil penalties levied on fast-food franchises.
As part of an investigation into federal child labor law violations in the Southeast, the Department of Labor said that three separate franchises that operate a total of 62 McDonald’s restaurants across Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland and Ohio “employed 305 children to work more than the legally permitted hours and perform tasks prohibited by law for young workers,” the agency wrote in a Tuesday press release.
All together, those franchises, Bauer Food LLC, Archways Richwood LLC and Bell Restaurant Group I LLC, were fined $212,744 in civil penalties, the agency said. The Department of Labor listed the franchise locations but did not specify which violations occurred where, other than saying the 10-year-olds were found working in Louisville.
McDonald’s corporate office as well as the three employers who were fined did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday from States Newsroom.
“Too often, employers fail to follow the child labor laws that protect young workers,” Wage and Hour Division District Director Karen Garnett-Civils in Louisville 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.”
Garnett-Civils said the agency is seeing an increase in federal child labor law 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.”
The Department of Labor has found a 69% increase in children employed illegally by companies since 2018. During fiscal 2022, there were 835 companies that employed more than 3,800 children in violation of labor laws.
Despite the increase in federal child labor law violations, multiple states have either passed or introduced legislation to roll back child labor laws, a push from businesses and conservative lawmakers.
The DOL’s investigation into Bauer Food, which is based in Louisville and operates 10 McDonald’s locations in Kentucky and Indiana, alleged the company employed 24 children under the age of 16 to work more than the legal hours permitted for minors.
“These children sometimes worked more hours a day or week than the law permits, whether or not school is in session,” according to the Department of Labor.
That investigation also found two 10-year-old children who were employed, but not paid, and sometimes worked as late as 2 a.m. They prepared food orders, cleaned the store, worked the drive-through window and operated a register.
The agency did not explain why the children were not paid.
The agency found that one of the two 10-year-old children was allowed to operate a deep fryer, which is prohibited for working minors under 16.
Bauer was fined $39,711.
DOL investigators found that Archways Richwood, which operates 27 McDonald’s locations in Kentucky and Ohio, let 242 children between the ages of 14 and 15 work beyond hours allowed for minors.
The company was fined $143,566 in civil penalties.
Bell Restaurant Group I, also based in Louisville, operates four McDonald’s and is part of Brdancat Management Inc., which includes Jesse Bell I, Jesse Bell V and Bell Restaurant Group II operating an additional 20 locations in Maryland, Indiana and Kentucky. The employer was fined $29,267 in civil penalties. DOL investigators found 39 children between the ages of 14 and 15 were allowed to work more hours than the legal limit, and two of the minors worked during school hours.
DOL investigators also found that 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.”