At a McDonald's in Kentucky, 10-year-olds worked past midnight, Labor Department finds • Georgia Recorder

WASHINGTON – Children as young as 10 were caught working past midnight at a McDonald's restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, the U.S. Labor Department said, announcing numerous civil penalties for fast-food franchises.

As part of an investigation into federal child labor law violations in the Southeast, the Labor Department said that three separate franchises operating a total of 62 McDonald's restaurants in Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland and Ohio “employed 305 children in order to produce more.” “They must exceed permitted hours and perform tasks prohibited by law for young workers,” the agency wrote in a news release Tuesday.

In total, these franchises, Bauer Food LLC, Archways Richwood LLC and Bell Restaurant Group I LLC, were assessed $212,744 in civil penalties, the agency said. The Labor Department listed the franchise locations but did not say which violations occurred where, other than to say the 10-year-olds were found working in Louisville.

McDonald's corporate headquarters and the three employers fined did not respond to inquiries from the state's newsroom on Wednesday.

“Too often employers fail to comply with child labor laws that protect young workers,” Karen Garnett-Civils, district director of the Louisville Wage and Hour Division, said in a statement. “Under no circumstances should a 10-year-old child work in a fast food kitchen near hot grills, ovens and deep fryers.”

Garnett-Civils said the agency is seeing an increase in violations of federal child labor law, “including allowing minors to operate equipment or perform work that endangers them or employs them longer or longer hours per day than federal law allows.”

The Labor Department has found a 69% increase in children employed illegally by companies since 2018. In fiscal year 2022, there were 835 companies that employed more than 3,800 children in violation of labor laws.

Despite the rise in child labor law violations at the federal level, several states have passed or introduced legislation to roll back child labor laws, a push by businesses and conservative lawmakers.

The DOL's investigation into Bauer Food, which is based in Louisville and operates 10 McDonald's locations in Kentucky and Indiana, found that the company employed 24 children under the age of 16 to work longer hours than the legal limits for minors.

“These children sometimes worked more hours per day or week than the law allows, regardless of whether school is closed or not,” the Labor Department said.

That investigation also found two 10-year-old children who were employed but not paid, sometimes working until 2 a.m. They prepared food orders, cleaned the store, manned the drive-thru window and manned a cash register.

The agency did not explain why the children were not paid.

The authority found that one of the two ten-year-old children was allowed to operate a deep fryer, which is prohibited for working minors under the age of 16.

Bauer was fined $39,711.

DOL investigators found that Archways Richwood, which operates 27 McDonald's locations in Kentucky and Ohio, made 242 children between the ages of 14 and 15 work beyond the hours allowed for minors.

The company was assessed a civil penalty of $143,566.

Bell Restaurant Group I, also based in Louisville, operates four McDonald's and is part of Brdancat Management Inc., which includes Jesse Bell I, Jesse Bell V and Bell Restaurant Group II, which operates another 20 locations in Maryland, Indiana and Kentucky . The employer was assessed a civil penalty of $29,267. DOL investigators found that 39 children between the ages of 14 and 15 were allowed to work more hours than permitted by law, and two of the minors worked during school hours.

DOL investigators also found that the employer “systematically failed to pay workers the overtime wages they were entitled to and that the Department subsequently recovered $14,730 in back wages and liquidated damages for 58 workers.”