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Meat processing company agrees to $300,000 administrative penalty, three-year compliance program after investigation finds company illegally employed teens in a Minnesota meat processing facility

Court enters consent order requiring administrative penalty, compliance by Tony Downs Food Company

A Minnesota district court has entered a consent order requiring a meat processing company to comply with state child labor laws at its production facilities in Minnesota and to take significant steps to ensure compliance with these laws.

The court’s action follows an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) of Tony Downs Food Company in Madelia, Minnesota, that found the company employed at least eight children between the ages of 14 and 17 to operate meat-processing equipment in violation of state child labor laws prohibiting minors from working in hazardous occupations during DLI’s audit period of Jan. 26, 2021, through Jan. 26, 2023. These children, one of whom was only 13 years old when hired, performed hazardous work, such as operating meat grinders, ovens and forklifts, for the company during overnight shifts.

Shortly after the investigation began, DLI investigators conducted an overnight on-site visit of Tony Downs. DLI subsequently asked the district court to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction against Tony Downs to stop the company from illegally employing children in hazardous occupations while DLI continued its investigation into the company’s labor practices. The district court issued the temporary restraining order and injunction March 15, 2023.

“The consequences of child labor violations are substantial and the Department of Labor and Industry is committed to combatting these violations,” said DLI Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach. “This is why DLI is focused on strategic enforcement of the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act, devoting investigatory resources on industries where violations are most likely to occur and using all available mechanisms to aggressively enforce the law. In this case, Tony Downs has agreed to take important steps to prevent child labor violations. All employers should provide training to their employees to help recognize potential child labor violations and take steps to ensure they are not employing children in violation of state and federal laws.”

On Sept. 8, 2023, the Fifth District Court in Watonwan County, Minnesota, issued a consent order in which Tony Downs agreed to comply with the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act at its facilities and to pay $300,000 in administrative penalties.

In addition to paying a penalty, Tony Downs agreed to various specific conditions for a period of three years to ensure compliance with the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act, including:

• hiring a third-party compliance specialist within 90 days to provide training, adopt or revise policies and procedures, and monitor compliance with the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act;

• ensuring policies, procedures and training related to its agreement with DLI are communicated to employees in an accessible and understandable manner for those of all levels of experience, literacy and education, including providing materials in English, Spanish and additional languages upon request;

• notifying DLI of child labor violations found and curing such violations within 10 days; and

• submitting regular reports to DLI drafted by the compliance specialist that outline steps taken to comply with the requirements of the consent order.

Among other prohibitions, the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from employing minors in hazardous occupations. It also restricts employers from having minors under 16 years of age work after 9 p.m., more than eight hours in a day or more than 40 hours in a week. Additional information regarding employer responsibilities under the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act is online at dli.mn.gov/child-labor.

To submit a child labor complaint, or to ask questions about child labor restrictions or other workplace rights, contact DLI’s Labor Standards Division at 651-284-5075 or dli.laborstandards@state.mn.us.

 

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