The Department Of Labor Is Fining Subway And Burger King. Here's Why

Following multiple investigations, the U.S. Department of Labor determined that employers at four restaurants violated child labor laws in South Carolina. These charges were leveled against certain operators of Burger King, Popeyes, Subway, and Frodo's Pizza franchises. It should be stressed that these were operators of specific restaurants, not the chains as a whole.

One Burger King operator, Carolina Franchise Holdings LLC, incurred a $1,382 fine for allowing 15-year-olds to exceed the 18-hour limit for a workweek. Popeyes operator PLC Dev Group LLC, was ordered to pay $2,073 for a similar violation involving three employees. Subway franchisees Harvey Restaurant Co. and Pleasantway Inc. got hit with $4,491 and $4,902 fines respectively. In the former instance, 13 teenagers (14- and 15-years-olds) worked later than the 9 p.m. limit set for the summertime. In the latter case, five 15-year-olds worked later than legally allowed, and four performed "prohibited baking activities." FPI Inc., which runs a Frodo's Pizza location, had three 16-year-olds operate vehicles to make deliveries, resulting in a $3,006.

These fines are the latest move in the Department of Labor's attempt to squash an increase in violations in the Southeast. In January, it hosted a webinar that covered labor laws as they relate to 14 and 15-year-olds. "In the Southeast, the [Wage and Hour Division] found child labor violations in more than 190 food service industry employers investigated in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, resulting in over $1 million in penalties assessed to employers," the department noted in a news release.

What the laws are and why they matter

In American labor laws, minors are divided into two categories: 16- and 17-year-olds and 14- and 15-year-olds, according to the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. The former group may work for "unlimited hours" but is prohibited from handling any equipment deemed dangerous, such as a meat grinder. While Frodo's Pizza was fined for allowing 16-year-olds to conduct tasks deemed dangerous, the three bigger brands fell foul of the laws concerning how long the younger group can work. The younger cohort cannot work for more than three hours on a school day, more than eight hours on a nonschool day, during school hours, or more than 40 hours during the summer. These minors are also barred from working after 7 p.m. and or before 7 a.m., except in the summer when they can work until 9 p.m.

The importance of such laws can be illustrated by a 1993 Chicago Tribune article about how the fast food industry began to rely heavily on cheap teen labor. That trend saw teens suffer injuries at a higher rate than adults. In 2020, the Boston Globe reported on a 17-year-old Chipotle employee in Massachusetts who often worked until 11 p.m. on school nights even though the state's labor laws set a 10 p.m. cutoff time for 16- and 17-year-olds. The teen (who reportedly worked at least one breakless 10-hour shift) saw their schoolwork suffer. A subsequent investigation unearthed "violations at more than 50 Chipotle restaurants."