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Employment Law

Recent Settlements Underscore Need for Caution When Employing Teenage Workers

Over the past several months, two national restaurant chains have paid large settlements to workers for alleged child labor violations at various Massachusetts locations. First, two Dunkin’ Donuts franchisees, located in central and southeastern Massachusetts, agreed to pay a collective $370,000 in fines after a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office alleged that they were in violation of M.G.L c. 149. Investigators uncovered over one thousand instances of violations of child labor statutes, including employing minors after 8:00 P.M. without adult supervision, employment of 16- or 17-year-olds for more than nine hours a day, employment of minors earlier than 6:00 A.M., and failing to obtain valid work permits. Since January of 2022, the AG’s Office has issued 32 citations against various Dunkin’ franchisees, the majority being related to child labor violations. These violations have resulted in fines and settlements totaling over $560,000.

Similarly, in June of 2023, Dave & Buster’s was cited for breaking similar Massachusetts labor laws surrounding meal breaks and child labor, leading to it paying $275,000 in settlement to over 800 aggrieved employees. The citations were triggered by a parent’s complaint to the AG’s office alleging that their child was denied meal breaks and forced to work past midnight on a weekend.

What does this mean? With such well-known employers making news headlines and paying large settlement amounts over a few months span, it would not be surprising to see more parents of young workers filing complaints with the AG’s Office and looking for recovery. Employers must remain vigilant in complying with the special restrictions applicable in Massachusetts to underage workers. To cite a few examples, employees are required to receive a 30-minute meal break (where they can leave the premises) if their shifts are longer than six hours, and 16- and 17-year-olds may not work past 10 p.m. on school nights. Hiring younger employees can be a win-win for employers and teenagers entering the workforce, but careful attention to Massachusetts child labor laws is essential. Some of those requirements are summarized at the link below, and Melick & Porter’s employment law attorneys are always available to provide additional advice and assistance.