ATHENS, GA – A federal investigation has found two Zaxby’s franchise restaurants in Lilburn and Grayson endangered minor-aged employees and allowed them to work outside of prescribed hours, in violation of federal child labor laws.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division determined that Encore Foods Inc. of Athens allowed 15-year-old workers to operate deep fryers without automatic controls to lower and raise fry baskets into the oil or grease, an occupation violation for minors under 16. The employer also permitted workers of the same age to work beyond what the law allows during the school year. These actions violated child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Division investigators also found Encore Foods failed to include non-discretionary bonuses into the pay rate when calculating overtime, which led the employer to pay a lower rate than the law requires. In addition, the employer paid salaried employees less than the minimum requirement of $684 per week. As a result, the salaried employees were entitled to overtime pay.

The division’s investigation led to the payment of a $15,533 civil money penalty by Encore Foods for its violations, and the recovery of $1,907 in back wages for 10 workers.

“Employers with minor-aged workers must follow strict laws intended to allow kids to gain valuable experience at work without risking their safety or interfering with their education,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Steven Salazar in Atlanta. “Endangering any worker is inexcusable, but minor-aged employees can be more vulnerable because of their inexperience. Employers, parents, workers and teachers must all be familiar with federal child labor laws to ensure the well-being of young workers.”

Headquartered in Athens, Zaxby’s is a fast-food chain with more than 900 locations in 17 states, including Georgia with 190 locations – the most of any state in the country. About 120 Zaxby’s restaurants are corporately owned and operated, while the remainder are franchise locations.

As historic shifts in the nation’s workforce continue, employers are finding it more difficult to retain and recruit the people they need to do the jobs they offer. In December 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 958,000 food and accommodation services workers left their positions, and that there will be about 41,400 openings for food service managers each year, on average, from 2020 to 2030.

“As more workers choose to leave food service industry jobs, employers who can attract young workers, provide a safe workplace, and pay their rightful wages have the advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining workers. Those who put workers at-risk or shortchange their wages will likely find themselves without the people they need to work,” Salazar added.

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.

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