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US McDonald's franchisee employed two 10-year-olds, broke labor laws

US federal investigators uncover prohibited work by minors in multiple franchise locations

Source: CBS News

A McDonald's franchisee in Kentucky employed two 10-year-old children in violation of federal labor laws, the Department of Labor said Tuesday.

Bauer Food, LLC, a Louisville-based operator of 10 McDonald's franchise locations across two states, employed the children, the DOL said in a news release.

Officials said the children were not paid, yet sometimes worked as late as 2 a.m. and they "prepared and distributed food orders, cleaned the store, worked at the drive-thru window and operated a register." Investigators learned that "one of the two children was allowed to operate a deep fryer, a prohibited task for workers under 16 years old."

Bauer Food franchise owner Sean Bauer told CBS News that the children were visiting their parent, who works as a night manager. He said the kids were not approved to be in that part of the restaurant by franchisee organization management and that any work the children did was at the direction of, and in the presence of, the parent.

Bauer added that the company has worked to make sure the policy regarding children visiting parents and guardians at work is clear to all employees.

In June of 2022, a 15-year-old worker at a Tennessee McDonald's franchise suffered hot oil burns while using a deep fryer, according to the agency. Fourteen and 15-year-olds are permitted to cook with deep fryers under federal regulations, but only ones equipped with automatic baskets.

"One child injured at work is one too many," Wage and Hour Division District Director Karen Garnett-Civils in Louisville, Kentucky said in the Tuesday press release. "Child labor laws exist to ensure that when young people work, the job does not jeopardize their health, well-being or education."

The employment of the 10-year-old children wasn't the only violation DOL investigators found. The Wages and Hour Division of DOL found Bauer Food, LLC employed 24 minors under the age of 16 to work more than legally permitted hours. The DOL assessed nearly $40,000 in penalties.

In addition to Bauer Food, LLC, the Wages and Hour Division also investigated Archways Richwood LLC and Bell Restaurant Group I LLC. The three franchisees operate 62 McDonald's locations across Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland and Ohio.

The three franchisees employed 305 children to work more than the legally permitted hours, investigators found. The workers also performed tasks prohibited for minor employees.

"These reports are unacceptable, deeply troubling and run afoul of the high expectations we have for the entire McDonald's brand," said Tiffanie Boyd, senior vice president and chief people officer at McDonald's USA. "It is not lost on us the significant responsibility we carry to ensure a positive and safe experience for everyone under the Arches. 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."

Another franchisee of the McDonald's corporation broke U.S. labor laws by allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to work outside of legal hours at 13 restaurants, the DOL said in December. The department found similar violations at Burger King, Subway and Popeyes earlier in 2022.

The DOL has seen a 69 percent increase in children being employed illegally by companies since 2018, the agency said in late February. Officials did not offer an explanation for the surge in unlawful employment. The DOL issued $4,386,205 in child labor civil money penalties for 2022, according to agency data.

"We see every day the scourge of child labor in this country, and we have a legal and a moral obligation to take every step in our power to prevent it," former U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said in a February news release "Too often, companies look the other way and claim that their staffing agency or their subcontractor or supplier is responsible."

The rise in child labor comes as Republican lawmakers are moving to loosen child labor protections in a number of states. In Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law in March to make it easier for children under 16 to get hired. In Iowa, lawmakers in the state Senate in April passed legislation that would permit 14- and 15-year-olds to work in freezers and meat coolers.

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