Two Georgia Zaxby’s found to have violated child labor laws

Athens-based Zaxby's is one of the largest chicken restaurant chains in the nation as measured by sales. It has more than 900 restaurants in 17 states. Photo courtesy of Zaxby's.

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Athens-based Zaxby's is one of the largest chicken restaurant chains in the nation as measured by sales. It has more than 900 restaurants in 17 states. Photo courtesy of Zaxby's.

A Georgia restaurant franchise has paid civil penalties for mishandling young employees.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, two Zaxby’s restaurants, in Lilburn and Grayson, were found to be endangering minors and giving them too many hours.

The department’s investigation found that Encore Foods, Inc. allowed 15-year-old employees to work more hours than is allowed during the school year. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s website, 14- and 15-year-olds cannot work more than 18 hours per week when school is in session.

The investigation also found that 15-year-olds were operating deep fryers without automatic controls to lower and raise fry baskets, a violation of child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In addition, Encore Foods did not include non-discretionary bonuses in pay rates, leading Zaxby’s to pay a lower rate to employees than is required by law, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Athens-based restaurant chain responded to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution request for comment.

“At Zaxby’s we care about the safety and well-being of all our employees. The situation at the Zaxby’s locations owned and operated by Encore Foods, Inc. in Lilburn and Grayson, Ga. has been resolved, and measures have been put in place to ensure regulatory compliance and best practices going forward. We strive to help our youngest team members gain valuable work experience without risking their safety or interfering with their education,” a spokesperson said.

Encore Foods has paid $15,533 for its violations and $1,907 in back wages for 10 employees.

As the workforce has been largely affected by the pandemic, employers are having a hard time finding workers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in December 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 958,000 food and accommodation services workers left their positions.

“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,” said Steven Salazar, Wage and Hour Division district director in Atlanta.