How Fast Food Violates Child Labor Laws

Two different fast food chains recently paid major fines.

As a teenager, having a part-time job, or really any type of job that pays, is a coveted thing. Having your own source of income at a young age can be empowering and can, of course, foster a sense of responsibility. I am not a parent, but what I do remember from working a job in high school was being very excited to have any money at all that I didn't have to beg my mom for.

However, even if a teen is eager to work their hours and earn that extra cash, it's not that simple on the employer's end. Both Chipotle and Dairy Queen recently settled lawsuits in which the chains were found to be in violation of child labor laws. Both instances resulted in hefty fines, reports industry publication Restaurant Business.

How Chipotle violated child labor laws

Minors living and working in New Jersey are only allowed to work a certain amount of hours and at certain times of day. This is the root of many of Chipotle's alleged violations, Restaurant Business explains.


In 2020, New Jersey conducted an audit of Chipotle locations across the state and clocked 30,660 alleged violations involving minors. Those thousands of violations were spread across 85 locations, and included instances of minors working more hours than legally allowed and a lack of sufficient meal breaks.

Child labor laws in New Jersey prohibit 14- and 15-year olds from working more than 40 hours when school is not in session and more than 18 hours when school is in session. Meanwhile, 16- and 17-year-olds can work up to 40 hours all year, with 30-minute meal breaks.

These types of violations are not unique to Chipotle's New Jersey restaurants. The company also settled a lawsuit in Massachusetts in 2020 by agreeing to pay $1.4 million in restitution and penalties for similar charges relating to child labor laws. As for New Jersey, Chipotle agreed to pay $7.75 million and to implement a plan mean to keep the chain compliant with child labor laws moving forward.


How Dairy Queen violated child labor laws

The child labor laws in Fort Wayne, Indiana are similar to those in New Jersey: Kids are not allowed to work beyond a certain amount of hours. The limit for 14- and 15-year-olds in Indiana is three hours on a school day and eight hours per day on weekends or holidays. These are the rules that multiple Indiana Dairy Queen locations did not abide by, reports Restaurant Business.


H&H Coldwater LLC, better known as the operator of Dairy Queen, had 102 alleged violations in both Indiana and Michigan across 11 store locations. The allegations left Dairy Queen with a $42,572 fine to pay. However, while Chipotle opted to implement a new scheduling system to help prevent teens from being overworked, Dairy Queen has not yet announced any similar plans.

The fact that the phrase "work–life balance" is something employers and employees are now extremely familiar with demonstrates that maintaining such a balance has been a continued issue in the workforce. Burnout is enough of a daily reality for adults working full-time; it's unfortunate that kids might experience the phenomenon so early. Whether or not these young employees wanted the extra hours, it's up to the adults in the room to observe the laws that protect the youngest members of the workforce.