Recently, a franchised Chick-fil-A restaurant in Hendersonville, North Carolina, posted the following message on Facebook:
"We are looking for volunteers for our new Drive Thru Express! Earn 5 free entrees per shift (1 hr) worked. Message us for details."
When challenged by members of the local community, who indicated the business had likely engaged in what was an “egg”regious violation of the FLSA, a spokesperson for the franchise explained their action, stating:
“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.”
One can only imagine this “nugget” of an idea was not vetted by the franchise’s legal counsel or anyone from human resources, and the person who created the idea does not keep a”breast” of labor law. A quick consultation with corporate leaders could have kept this business owner out of the public “fryer.” It now seems that the franchisee has “chickened” out and abandoned the plan, before facing “grilling” by the Department of Labor. Hopefully, the owner kept accurate records, reflecting accurate “clucking” in and out along with contact information for the volunteers, should payment of wages be required.
Another Chick-fil-A franchisee, based in Tampa, Florida, recently made news when they were fined more than $12,000 in penalties by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division for violations of the child labor provisions of the FLSA. The DOL stated the franchisee permitted workers ages 14 and 15 years old to work past 7:00 p.m. or more than three hours on school days, both practices that violate federal child labor laws.
It is important to mention that these violations took place at only two of over 2,000 franchise locations across the country. Chick-fil-A corporate was quick to point out the North Carolina “peckadillo” was not a corporate initiative, but the brainchild of the franchisee. Of course, understanding and complying with the applicable labor laws is obviously in “order,” if individual locations wish to have a “leg” to stand on when deviating from company policy. However, the tales also represent a valuable lesson in brand management and how actions of subsidiaries and franchisees can come home to “roost.”
It remains to be seen if we should “eggspect” any additional news on these particular situations. While the use of puns in this particular blog is intended to be lighthearted, it is not intended to lessen the seriousness of these issues. The recent occurrences present an opportunity for us to not only ensure our operations understand the employment law environment we operate in, but also to confirm that any affiliated organizations understand the obligations as well. Doing so should keep us free from playing a “game of chicken,“ with either the federal or state Department of Labor, or going from the “frying pan into the fire” with bad press.