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It’s a time-honored tradition in the restaurant industry — every year temperatures rise and teenagers look for work while school is out for the summer.
Teenage workers still represent one-third of all those employed throughout the year. And during the summer, restaurants across the country hire thousands of young employees to help keep operations smooth as traffic increases.
These young employees are an invaluable part of the industry’s dynamic workforce, but they also present a set of unique challenges for owners, operators and managers alike.
The first step to managing minors is making sure that you’re doing it legally. Today’s child labor regulations are complicated, and it’s remarkably easy to slip into noncompliance. Just think about it — struggling to manage age groups, school schedules, time limits, equipment-use rules, state-required work permits and certifications, and monthly audits, among other responsibilities.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) restricts the hours youth can work and lists hazardous occupations too dangerous for young workers to perform, and if restaurants fail to maintain compliance with these laws, it can be bad for business in more ways than one.
These laws ensure that young people’s jobs do not jeopardize their health, wellbeing, or educational opportunities. They are in place for good reason. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety, about 160,000 American children suffer occupational injuries every year, and as many as 54,800 of these injuries warrant emergency care.
The Cost of Child Labor Law Violations
The rules vary by age. For example, 16- and 17-year-olds may be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation other than those declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. For 14- and 15-year-olds, they may be employed in restaurants and QSRs outside of school hours in a variety of jobs for limited periods of time and under specified conditions.
Violators of the child labor provisions are subject to a civil money penalty of up to $10,000 for each employee who was the subject of a violation.
Plus, along with federal laws, every state has its own child employment laws and standards for how and when minors can be employed, some often even more stringent than federal laws. Other laws also affect minors’ ability to work include compulsory school attendance laws and licensing restrictions based on age.
In addition to the penalties associated with the infraction, a restaurant could also:
- Be required to pay lawyer fees
- Experience damage to their reputation and sales
- Held criminally liable
Despite the clear incentives to follow minor labor laws, restaurants frequently run afoul. Between October 2015, and June 2016, the Dept. of Labor found FLSA violations in 95 percent of restaurants it investigated.
In fact, in February 2018 a Wendy’s franchisee was forced to pay nearly $250,000 for child labor infractions after a Department of Labor investigation found the franchise group was violating laws at all 53 of its locations. Investigators discovered that:
- 14- and 15-year-old employees had been operating deep fryers.
- 422 minors to work more than 3 hours on school days or more than 8 hours on non-school days.
Automation is the Key to Managing Teenagers More Effectively
No one said working with today’s next generation of restaurant staff members was going to be easy. But it can be easier when restaurants employ scheduling and labor-management tools that support their communication and compliance goals. Here are some ways these tools can make working with Gen Z and complying with minor labor laws so much easier in your restaurant.
Given the complexity of child labor laws and the likelihood of making mistakes, automating as much of compliance as possible makes managers’ jobs easier and reduces the risks. The right solution will let a manager “set it and forget it.” This effectively keeps managers in the safety zone. At a minimum, operators need the following three compliance functions automated:
Minor Labor Rules and Thresholds
Add minor labor rules, including federal and those unique to states of operation, to your scheduling system to prevent inadvertently breaking laws. This includes setting maximum hours per shift and week, programming strict clock-in and clock-out times, adhering to meal and break policies, and responding to alerts if any schedules violate the law.
To stay compliant with school calendar rules at the store-level, operators need district-by-district data and to know which minors attend which schools. To prevent mistakes, this information needs to be programmed into their scheduling systems, with set alerts for noncompliance. Enabling minors to input their off-calendar commitments — finals week, sports team travel, and other conflicts — is equally important.
Restaurants need to document and track the scheduling and time and attendance data for every shift and back it up, preferably with a cloud-based solution. In the event of an investigation, having this documentation on file can provide the valuable proof that your restaurant is compliant with child labor laws.