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Chipotle Fined for Child Labor Violations

Description: Chipotle Brandon, Florida Date: 14 July 2013 (according to Exif data) Source: Own work Author User:proshob

Chipotle’s fine was the largest in state history and the latest in a series of industry labor abuses. Qdoba, a Chipotle competitor, and franchisees of Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Burger King have all been hit with penalties for similar reasons.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, credited with popularizing fast-casual dining, has run afoul of legal trouble once more. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy fined the company $1.37 million for child labor, wage, and hour infringements. The citation was based on an estimated 13.253 instances, according to Eater, which were discovered after a parent filed a complaint that their child worked after midnight, over 2 hours past the typical 10 p.m. closing time at Massachusetts locations.

When state officials checked time logs at six locations, they discovered the restaurant had let 16 and 17-year-old workers exceed both daily and weekly hourly limits, David Yaffe-Bellany and Mihir Zaveri reported for The New York Times. Investigators also found the chain in violation of sick-time rules and not issuing prompt paychecks. 

Chipotle’s fine was the largest in state history and the latest in a series of industry labor abuses. Qdoba, a Chipotle competitor, and franchisees of Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Burger King have all been hit with penalties for similar reasons. 

Restaurants Attract Youth Labor

The NYT report emphasized the industry-wide problem due to a labor shortage as unemployment has steadily declined (currently at 3.2 percent). To compensate for a lack of adult workers, restaurants have increasingly lowered their acceptable hiring age to state minimums, which can vary from one state to another, making it difficult for a centralized corporate office to keep individual locations in-check. 

“Understaffing is a massive problem,” said Jonathan Maze, executive editor of Restaurant Business Magazine. “You have companies that are stressed to try to fill hours and keep people on, and it can lead to violations.”

Chipotle agreed to the settlement, but was not required to admit fault in doing so, The deal also included $500,000 for youth training and the development of programs to prevent future child labor abuses. The penalty may have been a wrist slap to the brand, but as it markets itself as “food with integrity,” but the state hopes it will be sufficient to deter further mistakes.

“Chipotle is a major national restaurant chain that employs thousands of young people across the country and it has a duty to ensure minors are safe working in its restaurants,” Healey said in a statement. “We hope these citations send a message to other fast food chains and restaurants that they cannot violate our child labor laws and put young people at risk.”

Young workers may be particularly prone to consider employment at Chipotle because of its lucrative benefits. The business advertises paid sick-leave (although it was fined for not necessarily adhering to it) and offers university for tuition after an employee has worked for 120 days, provided they pursue a technology or business degree.

Trouble of a Different Kind

The child labor fine by Massachusetts was not the first time the restaurant chain has made headlines due to ethical and legal violations. It was previously on the forefront of several disease outbreaks, including a spurt of five serious illnesses from August to December 2015. Ultimately, the restaurant chain was forced to close all locations for several hours on Feb. 6, 2016 simply for food safety training. 

Laurie Schalow, Chipotle chief corporate reputation officer, defended the company in a prepared statement, pledging to ensure the legal compliance of its restaurants. Furthermore, she indicated the company has no plans to reconsider its practice of employing 16-year-olds. 

“We believe that in hiring workers beginning at age 16, we can provide younger employees with valuable experiences and provide a compelling work environment,” Schalow said.

While the fine is likely to be the key takeaway with the goal of an industry-wide reevaluation of hiring practices, the tip from the Massachusetts parent who reported their concern showcased the struggle of maintaining a watchful eye. As businesses become juggernauts, the risk for infractions grows in tandem with the difficulty of checking every location. Furthermore, state governments are ill-equipped to regularly audit businesses for child labor. Therefore, it is left to minors and their parents to ensure their rights are respected and laws are upheld.

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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