Watch CBS News

Sonic Drive-In restaurants pay more than $70,000 for breaking child labor laws

Investigations uncover child labor in U.S.
Investigations uncover child labor at companies in U.S. 07:27

The owners and operators of six Sonic Drive-In restaurants in northwest Nevada have paid more than $70,000 in civil penalties for allegedly violating federal child labor laws.

Federal investigators in the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division determined SDI of Neil LLC, which operates as Sonic Drive-In, committed more than 170 violations of the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Those included assigning employees under the age of 16 to work longer hours than federal regulations allow and assigning them tasks considered too dangerous for younger workers, such as operating manual deep fryers, the department said Monday in a statement.

"While learning new skills in the workforce is … valuable as teens grow up, federal law dictates how employers must protect children by making sure their first jobs are safe and that they do not interfere with their education or well-being," Wage and Hour Division District Director Gene Ramos said in the statement. 

According to federal investigators, one of restaurants' owners also hired a child who was 13 years old at the time of employment — one year younger than the legal age for employment in restaurants and other nonagricultural jobs.

Investigations uncover child labor at companies in U.S. 07:27

SDI of Neil and its owners Taylor M. Cain, Ian N. Cain and Quinn M. Cain paid $71,182 in civil penalties for  violations that occurred at restaurants in Reno, Sparks, Carson City, Fallon and Minden. 

As part of the resolution, the owners also agreed to pay $274 in overtime owed to two teenagers denied overtime for a more than 40-hour workweek. 

Sonic Drive-In did not immediately reply to CBS MoneyWatch's request for comment. 

Cracking down on child labor

Federal investigators have begun cracking down on child labor violations, conducting sweeping investigations of businesses that employ children and hitting offenders with hefty fines. 

In 2022, the DOL fined a food-safety sanitation company $1.5 million after it discovered more than 100 children between the ages of 13 and 17 working with "razor-sharp saws" and "caustic chemicals" in 13 of the company's meat processing plants in eight states. The case was one of the largest in the Labor Department's history. 

Child labor violations have increased 69% since 2018, according to the DOL. From 2018 to 2022, more than 15,000 children were found to be employed illegally, data from the department shows. 

As child labor rates soar, the Labor Department has called on Congress to increase the amount of money that employers who hire children illegally can be fined.

"The maximum civil money penalty under current law for a child labor violation is $15,138 per child, " the DOL said February in a statement. "That's not high enough to be a deterrent for major profitable companies." 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.