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Qdoba fined $409,400 for child labor law violations

Qdoba was fined more than $400,000 for violating the state's child labor laws. (Thomas Grillo )

SWAMPSCOTT — Qdoba Restaurant Corp. has been fined $409,400 for more than 1,000 child labor law violations at its corporate-owned locations in Massachusetts, including Peabody and Swampscott, according to Attorney General Maura Healey. 

The AG launched an investigation into the fast casual Mexican restaurant chain last year after her office received a complaint from an underage employee who alleged she had worked late into the evening at a Newton Qdoba location. 

A review of Qdoba’s records by investigators revealed minors routinely worked in violation of the law, according to the AG’s office. An audit of all 22 Massachusetts Qdoba locations showed thousands of violations, including minors working too late into the evening and too many hours per shift.

Healey was unavailable for an interview. In a statement she said a young worker’s first job is critical in teaching them about workplace rules, responsibility, and safety.

“We remain committed to ensuring employers understand and follow the rights of all workers across Massachusetts,” she said.

Bolt Public Relations, a Raleigh, N.C.-based PR company that represents Qdoba, did not return multiple calls seeking comment. 

Investigators said they found nearly 200 instances in which a minor worked more than 11 hours in a single shift, and 18 instances of minors working more than 48 hours in a week. 

Patricia Campbell, of Lynn, who said she is a regular customer at the Swampscott location on Paradise Road, had not heard the news of the fines.

“We come here pretty often, my kids love the food, my daughter likes the quesadillas and my son likes the burritos, the food is good and reasonably priced,” she said. “But I don’t like to hear they’re violating child labor laws because that’s not good.”

A 25-year-old carpenter from Lynn, who declined to give his name, spoke as he exited the restaurant.

“That’s not right,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing you hear about happening in other countries. I hope the fine is big enough to prevent abuses from happening again. If you had told me on the way in, I would have gone elsewhere to eat.” 

Investigators allege Qdoba’s records show more than 1,000 instances of a minor working later than 10:30 p.m. on a night preceding a school day. On more than 25 occasions, Qdoba also failed to obtain work permits prior to hiring minor employees.

The citations include a penalty of $250 for each violation, the maximum penalty allowed for first-time violators of the child labor statute. The company continued to violate the law into May, more than a year after the investigation began.

The AG’s Fair Labor Division is responsible for enforcing state laws regulating the payment of wages, including prevailing wage, minimum wage, overtime, and earned sick time laws. Under Massachusetts law, children under 18 may not work more than 9 hours in a day or more than 48 hours in a week. Fourteen- and 15-year-old children may not work later than 7 p.m., and 16- and 17-year-old children may not work later than 10 p.m., on a night preceding a school day. State law also requires employers to have work permits on file for all workers under 18.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the AG’s Office has issued 41 citations for child labor law violations, many of which occurred at businesses in the restaurant industry, totaling $487,050 in penalties.

Workers who believe that their rights have been violated in their workplace are encouraged to file a complaint at the Attorney General’s new Workplace Rights website, www.mass.gov/ago/fairlabor. For information about the state’s wage and hour laws, or for materials in multiple languages, workers may also call the Office’s Fair Labor Hotline at 617-727-3465.

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