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Two Vermont fast food firms fined for violating federal child labor laws

A white sign that reads "Dunkin' Donuts Drive Thru" in front of blue sky and white clouds.
Henry Epp
/
Vermont Public
A firm that runs Dunkin' restaurants around northwestern Vermont is one of two companies that has been fined by the U.S. Department of Labor for violating federal child labor laws.

Two firms that operate McDonald’s and Dunkin’ restaurants in Vermont have been fined after the U.S. Department of Labor found that nearly 200 teenage employees worked longer hours than allowed under federal law.

According to the Department of Labor, 142 employees of Rutland-based McDonald’s franchisee Coughlin Inc. worked beyond the number of hours allowed for their age group. All of the employees were 14 or 15 years old. Forty-four teenage employees of Vermont Donut Enterprises, which operates Dunkin’ restaurants around northwestern Vermont, worked more hours than allowed.

Federal labor law places strict limitations on the number of hours that teenagers can work in a given day or week. For example, on a day when a 14- or 15-year old is in school, they are only allowed to work three hours. According to the department, some teenage McDonald’s employees in Vermont were working as many as eight hours on a school day.

The department’s investigations also found that teenage employees at both franchises took on tasks that are prohibited for their age group. At the McDonald’s restaurants, 18 workers operated deep-fat fryers. Meanwhile, 17 Dunkin’ employees operated high-speed ovens, according to the department. Those activities are prohibited for that age group under federal law.

Vermont Donut Enterprises paid nearly $50,000 for the violations. Coughlin Inc. paid over $109,000. Both companies agreed to make changes at their workplaces. According to the department, the franchises will provide color-coded name tags for teenage employees to help identify employees by age. They’ll also appoint compliance officers and give supervisors additional training.

Vermont Donut Enterprises declined comment. Coughlin Inc. did not respond to requests for comment.

As employers struggle to fill open positions, more young people are working, and more employers are violating child labor law violations, said Steven McKinney, the director of the Northern New England district office of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division.

“They're hiring whoever they can find,” McKinney said. “Often, that's the younger pool of workers. Many employers in fact are saying, ‘Hey, this is the first time we were hiring 14, 15 year olds,’ and they didn't become familiar with the laws.”

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McKinney would not detail how the violations in Vermont came to the department’s attention. But he encouraged employers who are unfamiliar with work restrictions for younger workers to reach out to the department.

“We want people to proactively call us, rather than wait to be investigated,” McKinney said.

For Coughlin Inc., the McDonald’s franchisee, this is not the first time its run afoul of federal labor law. In July, the company reached a $1.6 million settlement with the Vermont Attorney General’s office and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over allegations that the company failed to protect workers from sexual harassment by a manager at its Randolph McDonald’s location.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp:

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Henry is a reporter covering business, the economy and infrastructure at Vermont Public. He's also co-host of The Frequency, Vermont Public's daily news podcast, along with Anna Van Dine. Henry came to Vermont Public in 2017, and worked as the station's host of All Things Considered until November 2021. Prior to that, he was a reporter and host of Morning Edition at New England Public Media in western Massachusetts. A graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, Henry was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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