What You Should Know About Dairy Queen's Child Labor Law Violations

Fast-food and teenagers go hand-in-hand. Whether they're hitting up their local McDonald's on a Friday night or manning the fry station in the back, young people are almost synonymous with the industry known for quick, cheap, usually-fried food. That's why, should you ever visit your local Dairy Queen, you probably wouldn't be surprised to see a kid between the ages of 15 or 16 working behind the counter or in the kitchen. While one could make a joke that the fast-food empire needs teenagers to keep its greasy wheels turning, teenagers making up a considerable amount of the fast-food workforce (and the restaurant industry as a whole) does have some truth to it. 

A 2013 report by The Center for Economic and Policy Research details that 30% of fast-food employees are teenagers or young people, while a 2021 article from CNBC tells us that teenagers were viewed as a key source of employment when restaurants began to suffer from labor issues following the response to the pandemic. The National Restaurant Organization summarizes that "teenagers have always been an important component of the restaurant workforce," and that "restaurants employ one-third of all working teenagers," revealing that young people are a surprisingly key part of keeping a restaurant afloat.

With all of these young people within the industry, it's inevitable that some companies, such as the aforementioned local Dairy Queen, may find themselves in hot water for treading the line between billing itself as a great place for teens to work and using them to skirt around well-established labor laws.

Dairy Queen had underage employees working too long

When you heard Dairy Queen broke child labor laws, you were probably confused as to how a major company known for Blizzards, chicken tender baskets, and burgers could get away with such a thing. The answer, according to Restaurant Business Online, is simple: The chain had its younger employees working far too long than what the law allows.

As Restaurant Business Online reports, Dairy Queen franchisees in the areas of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Michigan were charged over $42,572 in fines for allowing employees between the ages of 14 and 15 to work longer than they were allowed to. While it was never made clear just how long the Dairy Queen locations had the employees work, it is known that the employees worked more than eight hours (as young people can only work eight hours on weekends or holidays, with only three hours being allowed on school days, according to the U.S. Department of Labor). While it's presumed that the employees in question were paid for their time, it still didn't excuse the Dairy Queen franchisees from making them work that long.

Dairy Queen isn't the only restaurant to have broken child labor laws. Three McDonald's locations in Orange County, California came under fire for allowing its young employees to operate trash compactors, per The Orange County Register, while Chipotle was billed $1.4 million in Massachusetts for having younger employees work too late on school nights and for too long (via The New York Times).