Federal court orders Kansas operators of 17 Sonic locations to stop child labor violations after federal investigators find repeated abuses
NEWTON, KS – After federal investigators found, for the second time in a year, that the owners and operators of 17 Sonic Drive-In locations in Kansas illegally allowed children to work longer and at times not permitted by law, the U.S. District Court of Kansas has ordered the franchisees to stop violating child labor regulations.
The court’s action follows investigations by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division into employment practices by BBR Investments LLC of Newton and its owner, Richard Benard.
In September 2022, the department assessed the company with $41,998 in civil money penalties after investigators found the employer violated federal law by allowing 50 teens – ages 14 and 15 – to exceed the number of hours allowed weekly and work later than the law permits at Sonic locations in Hutchinson, McPherson and Newton.
On Oct. 7, 2022, the division began another investigation and found violations at the company’s Sonic location in Valley Center and ongoing violations at the locations in Hutchinson, McPherson and Newton. This investigation found BBR continuing to allow 44 child labor violations like those found in prior investigations. The division also determined that children under age 16 operated fryers without automatic devices to lower and lift fry baskets, which is prohibited under federal law. The department then assessed BBR with $97,070 in additional penalties.
To resolve the violations found in the investigations, BBR and Benard paid the department $139,068 in civil money penalties.
On May 25, 2023, Judge Toby Crouse issued a consent order and judgment requiring BBR and Benard to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act after the department filed a complaint in response to the employers’ repeated violations.
“Learning new skills in the workforce is an important part of growing up, but we must protect children and ensure their first jobs are safe,” explained Acting Wage and Hour Division District Director Kathy Rodriguez in Kansas City, Missouri. “The Department of Labor is determined to make sure a teenager’s work experience does not endanger them or impair their educational opportunities.”
“The Fair Labor Standards Act allows for developmental experiences but restricts when and how long these young people can work, and what dangerous jobs must be avoided so their safety and well-being are never compromised,” Rodriguez added.
The FLSA prohibits 14- and 15-year-old employees from working later than 9 p.m. from June 1 through Labor Day, and past 7 p.m. for the remainder of the year. Additionally, they cannot work more than 3 hours on a school day, more than 8 hours on a non-school day or more than 18 hours during a week when school is in session. The law also prohibits children from operating motor vehicles, forklifts and using other dangerous equipment.
The division provides many resources to help employers comply with child labor laws. Its YouthRules! initiative promotes positive and safe work experiences for teens by providing information about protections for young workers to youth, parents, employers and educators. The Wage and Hour Division has also published Seven Child Labor Best Practices for Employers to help employers comply with the law.
Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division and how to file an online complaint. For confidential compliance assistance, employees and employers can call the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243), regardless of where they are from.
Download the agency’s new Timesheet App for iOS and Android devices – also available in Spanish – to ensure hours and pay are accurate.