by Aron Zavaro, Esq.
Residents of Hendersonville, North Carolina were taken aback when their local Chick-fil-A made a Facebook post which attempted to recruit workers with the promise of free food in lieu of compensation. The post read: “We are looking for volunteers for our new Drive Thru Express! Earn 5 free entrees per shift (1 hr) worked. Message us for details.”
After receiving pushback for the post, the store attempted to defend itself in a separate Facebook post, which stated, “We’ve had multiple people sign up and enjoy doing and have done it multiple times. People who sign up for this chose it voluntarily.” However, the store’s post was apparently unable to quell the backlash and, according to a Chic-fil-A spokesperson, the Hendersonville location ultimately “decided to end this program.”
Although, the Chic-fil-A decided to delete its Facebook post and end the “volunteer” program, this incident raises an interesting question about whether this program would have been permissible under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act. Under these laws, all employees must be paid at least minimum wage, as well as overtime for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.
In their defense, the Chic-fil-A location claimed that its program was strictly volunteer based, and that federal and state wage laws do not apply to volunteers. However, whether a worker is an employee or a volunteer is based on an objective assessment of the circumstances, and an employer cannot simply designate workers as volunteers by their own decree in an attempt to evade their wage and hour obligations. Depending on how much control Chic-fil-A would have exercised over these “volunteers” – i.e., control over their job duties, hours, etc. – it may have had to compensate its “volunteers” as a matter of law.
If you have questions about the Fair Labor Standards Act, contact Thatcher Law Firm at 301-441-1400. www.ThatcherLaw.com. Follow us on: