According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s official website, part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is “to protect the educational opportunities of minors and prohibit their employment in jobs and under conditions detrimental to their health or well-being.” However, Chipotle’s chain of Mexican grills in the state of Massachusetts failed to comply with that law, resulting in a fine totaling roughly $1.3 million on account of over 13,000 violations across more than 50 state-wide eateries.
Massachusetts’s labor laws authorize minors to work no more than 48 hours a week. 14 to 15-year-olds cannot work later than 7 PM. That time is bumped up three hours to 10 PM for 16 to 17-year-olds before schooldays and goes to midnight before non-school days. Per reports, the infractions were handed out for reasons including the absence of working permits for employees under the age of 18 and having those underaged workers on the job well past midnight. Jamie B., an undeclared freshman, expressed disgust, “I cannot imagine being in high school and working so much. High school is supposed to be some of the best years of your life, these children have the rest of their lives to work!” In some instances, underaged employees were working more than the maximum of 48 hours allowed per week, preventing them from keeping up with their schoolwork.
“Chipotle is a major national restaurant chain that employs thousands of young people across the country,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a statement. “It has a duty to ensure minors are safe working in its restaurants.” An investigation into these types of actions had originally begun back in 2016 following the complaint of a parent whose child was reportedly on the job past midnight in a restaurant in Beverly, a town less than four miles from Salem.
Alyssa MacLeod and Abbie Van Lee filed a lawsuit in New Jersey District Court over similar violations in 2018 after working as underaged Chipotle employees in Fort Lee as recently as 2016. “Unfortunately I had a negative experience for my first job,” said MacLeod recently in front of attorneys and supporters as she returned to her former employer to publicize her experiences. “I don’t think that any minor should have to go through what I went through and what so many people go through.”
“I would come to school and I would fall asleep in Italian class,” said Van Lee. “My Italian teacher actually pulled me aside and talked to me and was suggesting that maybe it isn’t the right way to be working – past 2 a.m. as a minor.” According to Department of Labor spokesperson Angela Delli Santi, a claim filed on behalf of MacLeod in 2016 was investigated and resulted in an undisclosed fine for the Fort Lee establishment.
Wendy’s and Qdoba were also hit with similar violations in recent weeks, the former being issued 41 citations in Massachusetts due to more than 2,100 violations totaling more than $487,000 in penalty fines. The latter was ordered to pay $400,000 for more than 1,200 breaches of child labor laws across its 22 stores in the state.
It comes as a surprise that some of the nation’s most popular fast-food chains have been hit with such claims. “I am shocked that in 2020 these franchises are not in compliance with the state-wide and federal standards in place. I remember in high school it was hard to find work in a restaurant before I turned 17, which may be due to New York’s stricter laws. Stricter laws may be better, especially in these cases,” shared Maddy C, a senior linguistics major.
In a statement made by chief corporate reputation officer Laurie Schalow, Chipotle is “committed to ensuring that our restaurants are in full compliance with all laws and regulations and we believe that in hiring workers beginning at age 16, we can provide younger employees with valuable experiences and provide a compelling work environment.” As part of the state settlement, Chipotle has also agreed to contribute $500,000 towards a Massachusetts youth worker fund dedicated to training, educating, and workforce development for teenagers.