The US Department of Labor (DOL) has fined three McDonald’s franchisees after an investigation determined that hundreds of children, including two as young as 10, worked there in violation of federal labor laws.
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 discovered that Louisville, Kentucky-based McDonald’s franchise operator Bauer Food LLC hired two 10-year-olds to work at one of its locations – without pay – and until 2 a.m., with one of the kids even allowed to operate a 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 counter and kept records,” the Labor Department said Tuesday. .
Under Kentucky child labor laws, minors under the age of 14 are not permitted to work.
“Too often, employers fail to comply with child labor laws that protect young workers,” Karen Garnett-Civils, district manager of Louisville, Ky., Wage and Hour Division, said in a statement. “Under no circumstances should a 10-year-old be 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, together operate 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 the children of a night manager who visited them at work.
Bauer Food said management did not approve of the child’s presence in that part of the restaurant, adding that the company had made it clear to its employees that the behavior was against policy and had 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 of the three franchisees, 305 minors were employed.
The Department of Labor fined the companies $212,544 in civil penalties.
Under federal child labor rules, there are certain types of jobs that minors can work.
Children aged 14 to 15 are limited to working more than three hours per school day, eight hours on non-school days. They also cannot work more than 6 p.m. during a school week and cannot 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 violated having minors working hours beyond legal limits, according to the Department of Labor.
According to Garnett-Civils, there has been an increase in federal child labor violations, including cases where minors use equipment or perform hazardous work.
Tiffanie Boyd, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at McDonald’s USA, called the incidents “unacceptable” and “deeply disturbing” and go against the company’s “high expectations” of its brand.
“We don’t lose the important responsibility we bear to ensure a positive and safe experience for everyone under the Arches,” Boyd told ABC News. “I know how important it is for every restaurant to foster 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 that 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 found that in fiscal year 2022, nearly 700 children were illegally employed in hazardous work, which was the highest annual number since 2011, the DOL said in a statement. Press.
According to the Labor Department, a 15-year-old was injured last year while using a deep fryer at a McDonald’s in Morristown, Tennessee. The franchisee, Faris Enterprises of TN LLC, was fined more than $3,000, DOL said in March.
Faris Enterprises did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In February, a DOL investigation found that Packers Sanitation Services Inc., one of the nation’s largest food safety sanitation service providers, was illegally employing more than 100 children in hazardous working conditions at 13 sites in eight states.
The company’s vice president of marketing, Gina Swenson, said in a statement at the time that the company had “a zero-tolerance policy against the employment of 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 reinforce its policies. PSSI also held additional training for hiring managers, including on detecting identity theft, she said.
As a result of the investigation, the Biden administration last month insisted that U.S. meat companies and suppliers ensure minors are not illegally hired to work in dangerous jobs in their factories, according to the report. PA.
“A child injured at work is one child too many. Child labor laws exist to ensure that when young people work, the work does not compromise their health, well-being or education,” Garnett-Civils said.
ABC News’ Noah Minnie contributed to this report.