Dozens of 14- and 15-year-olds worked illegally at Sonic Drive-Ins in SC, feds say

Sue Ogrocki/AP

A series of investigations revealed 13 Sonic Drive-Ins in South Carolina violated federal child labor laws — with dozens of young teens affected, officials announced on Aug. 22.

Investigators found 91 minors ages 14 and 15 worked hours that were longer and later than allowed under federal law, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Now two Sonic Drive-In franchisees are ordered to pay thousands of dollars to address the issues, the agency announced in a news release.

This comes after violations involving 36 teens took place at eight Sonic Drive-Ins in Clinton, Gaffney, Greenville, Greenwood, Greer, Laurens and Simpsonville, officials said. These locations are run by Atticus Franchise Group LLC, an Atlanta-based private equity firm in charge of a total of 60 Sonic Drive-Ins.

Additionally, violations involving 55 minors occurred at five restaurants in Columbia, Chapin, Newberry and Sumter, according to officials. These locations are run by 3497 Beaufort Limited Partnership and its parent company, Boom Inc., which also operates Sonic Drive-Ins in North Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, Virginia and Kentucky.

As a result, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has assessed Atticus Franchise Group with a $25,000 civil money penalty and Beaufort and Boom Inc. with a $36,012 civil money penalty, the release said.

“Businesses that employ 14- and 15-year-olds must balance workplace experience with educational opportunities and be aware of the limits on these young workers’ job duties and hours,” Wage and Hour Division District Director Jamie Benefiel in Columbia said in a statement.

McClatchy News contacted Atticus Franchise Group and Sonic for comment on Aug. 23 and didn’t receive immediate responses. Contact information for Beaufort and Boom Inc. wasn’t immediately available.

The investigations into the Sonic Drive-In locations stem from the Department of Labor’s efforts to address an uptick in child labor violations nationwide, the release said.

There are strict rules in place for hours 14- and 15-year-old employees are allowed to work, according to the agency.

According to the rules, teens of this age can work “no more than 3 hours on a school day (and) no more than 8 hours on a non-school day.” In addition, they can only work up to 18 hours a week during the school year and up to 40 hours a week outside of the school year.

What’s more is that 14- and 15-year-olds can only work between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. — except during the summer when they can work up until 9 p.m, according to the Department of Labor.

Atticus Franchise Group violated each of these rules except the rule prohibiting the young workers from working more than 40 hours a week in the summer, the release said.

Officials didn’t specify exactly how Beaufort and Boom Inc. violated the rules, with the release saying the franchisee employed the minors “to work outside of legally allowed hours.”

“Child labor regulations ensure young workers can gain valuable work experience without interfering with their education or endangering their safety,” Benefiel said.

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