Wendy's Restaurants Across U.S. Accused of Violating Child Labor Laws as Franchisee Ordered to Pay Six-Figure Fine

A Kentucky-based franchise company that operates a slate of popular fast food restaurants has been hit with a six-figure fine for allegedly violating child labor laws.

Hundreds of minors were found to be working out of the normal business hours in Wendy's and Fazoli's restaurants across nine states owned by Manna Inc., the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) said. The company now faces a fine of $157,114.

Investigators said Manna Inc. violated the state's Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) after issues were flagged in nearly 100 restaurants, WLKY reported.

The agency alleged the law had been broken after the company allowed teenage employees, aged 14 and 15, to work "outside of legally approved hours and for more hours than allowed by law."

In a list of the offending establishments, the WHD said 15 restaurants were located in Louisville.

It was alleged 446 minors had worked before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. on school nights, worked more than three hours on a school day or worked more than eight hours on a non-school day. The violations were discovered restaurants in Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota and more.

"Child labor laws exist to ensure that when young people work, the work does not jeopardize their health and well-being or educational opportunities," said Louisville-based WHD division district director Karen Garnett-Civils, adding: "We encourage all employers to review their employment obligations and to contact the Wage and Hour Division for compliance assistance."

The labor department says the FLSA limits the hours and the times of day that 14 and 15-year-olds can work to no more than three hours on a school day and no more than 18 hours during a week when school is in session. Working hours are restricted to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Manna Inc. was founded by former NBA basketball player Ulysses "Junior" Bridgeman but is now under control of his son Ryan Bridgeman, local media outlet WDRB reported.

The business operates 136 Wendy's restaurants, 28 Golden Corral Buffet and Grill restaurants, 84 Fazoli's restaurants, six Mark's Feed Store restaurants, 11 Blaze Pizza outlets, alongside a Napa River Grill, Jimmy John's and The Layover Bar, according to its official website.

"We have a wonderful saying at Manna, Inc, if you have a problem and don't share it, it's yours. If you have a problem and share it with us, it's our problem," the Manna Inc. careers page says.

The franchising business is described as being in "good standing" with the Kentucky Secretary of State business directory, which currently lists Ryan D Bridgeman as the company president and director and says that the firm was incorporated by Ulysses Bridgeman in 1999.

Wendy's has been contacted for comment.

Ulysses Bridgeman acquired Heartland Coca-Cola Bottling Co. back in 2017 to become one of three independent Coca-Cola bottlers in the United States, the Louisville Future reported.

File photo: Sign of Wendy's restaurant in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. A Kentucky franchise company that operates restaurants including Wendy's and Fazoli's has been hit with a six-figure fine for allegedly violating child labor laws. iStock