Chick-Fil-A Restaurant Required To Pay Workers In Legal Tender, Not Chicken Tenders
In July of this year, a Chik-Fil-A franchisee in Hendersonville, South Carolina, tried to save some money by asking "volunteers" to come work at their store directing customers to their new Drive Thru Express in exchange for chicken dinners.
"We are looking for volunteers for our new Drive Thru Express! Earn 5 free entrees per shift (1 hr) worked," a Facebook post read, "Message us for details."
While there were a few takers, the backlash to the gambit was so strong that it was canceled after just one day.
Now, instead of saving a few bucks, franchise owner Joel Benson will be required to pay all of his "volunteers" in actual, non-edible money. The Labor Department ordered him this week to pay $235 in back pay to seven workers — on top of, we can assume, the five chicken entrees they were given at the time — as paying them in chicken was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Imagine that!
It is worth noting that for-profit companies don't get to have "volunteers." That is also a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. (Interns, a discussion for another day, are not considered "volunteers.") We may have crappy labor laws in this country, we may have a ridiculously low minimum wage, but you still can't have people working for free. Well, unless you are the restaurant I worked at for like two weeks during college that refused to pay me my base pay after I was fired for telling one of the owners that she was legally not allowed to wear flip-flops while working in a restaurant and did, in fact, offer to pay me in food. (I probably should have taken it since they closed before I ever got my money.)
In addition to the backpay, this particular Chick-Fil-A is also being fined $6,450 in civil penalties for violating child labor laws by allowing three minors to operate a trash compactor, which is also illegal. While people under 18 can work, there are laws regulating what kind of work they are allowed to do, and operating a trash compactor is not one of the things they are allowed to do.
A Chick-Fil-A restaurant in Tampa was recently fined $12,478 for violating child labor laws, after requiring 17 of its 14- and 15-year- old employees to work past 7 p.m. or for more than three hours a day on school days. In 2020, another Chick-Fil-A restaurant in Lubbock, Texas, was forced to pay $12,510 in back wages to 184 employees after having required them to buy $60 uniforms in order to work there, which resulted in their total pay being less than the minimum wage. I would be shocked, except that I know a lot of retail stores back in the day (ahem, Abercrombie and Fitch) used to pay minimum wage while also requiring employees to wear new clothes from the front of the store.
Chick-Fil-A is not the only fast-food restaurant screwing its workers in this way, of course. Just a few weeks ago, the Department of Labor fined a McDonald's franchisee in Pittsburgh $57K for violating child labor laws. In February of this year, a California McDonald's franchisee had to pay $25K in fines for employing minors in "hazardous work in violation of child labor laws."
In July, a Taco Bell franchisee was ordered to pay $56K in backpay to 31 assistant general managers after "misapplying' overtime wage rules.
In September, a South Carolina Burger King franchisee was ordered to pay $17K for, you guessed it, child labor violations across their nine restaurants.
It's worth noting that this all comes at a time where people are still huffing and puffing about how low-wage workers are driving inflation by demanding higher wages. It is also worth considering that if these companies paid more, they might have more adult employees who could do certain aspects of these jobs without violating child labor laws.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse