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Chick-fil-A fined over "volunteer" program that paid people only in meals

A Chick-fil-A in Hendersonville, North Carolina, illegally paid some workers with meal vouchers instead of wages, while also violating child labor regulations by using teenagers for hazardous work, the U.S. Department of Labor said.

The DOL has fined the franchisee $6,685 following an investigation that found certain employees were asked to direct traffic, then paid with meal vouchers instead of the minimum wage as legally required, the federal agency said. 

The agency also found that three teenagers under the age of 18 were operating, loading and unloading a trash compactor, violating rules that prohibit minors from performing hazardous jobs. 

"Child labor laws ensure that when young people work, the work does not jeopardize their health, well-being or educational opportunities," Richard Blaylock, the DOL's wage and hour division district director in Raleigh, North Carolina, stated in a news release. In addition, employers are responsible to pay workers for all of the hours worked and the payment must be made in cash or legal tender."

In addition to having to pay a fine, the franchisee during the summer faced a backlash on social media for offering to pay food instead of cash.

A now-deleted post on its Facebook page had the eatery asking for "volunteers" for its drive-thru. "Earn five free entrees per shift (1 hr) worked," it read.

"Hey @ChickfilA can you explain why you're allowing a franchisee to hire unpaid positions? This is unacceptable," one person wrote in a tweet.

The company pushed back against the outrage, saying that people freely chose to "volunteer."

"We've had multiple people sign up and enjoy doing and have done it multiple times. People who sign up for this chose it voluntarily," the store responded in the comments of its now-deleted post, according to a published account by Today. The drive-thru job was "simply for those who want to earn some free Chick-fil-A," the eatery said in a screenshot of the post.

Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A's corporate office did not respond to a request for comment. A corporate spokesperson told Insider in July that the company did not endorse the so-called volunteer program.

An employee who answered the phone at the Hendersonville Chick-fil-A told CBS MoneyWatch that staff had been instructed "not to make any comment."

While many food service employees are offered free meals, it can't replace monetary compensation. And a for-profit business can't hire volunteers to work, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The violation is not the first by a Chick-fil-A franchisee. 

Another Chick-fil-A in Tampa, Florida, paid $12,478 in penalties in August after the DOL found it had 17 workers, 14- and 15-years-old, working past 7 p.m. and more than three hours during school days, the DOL noted in its Monday release. 

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