Harsh fine for honest mistake

Published 12:11 am Monday, November 1, 2004

By Staff
Our View
It's unfortunate thing, but many times bad things happen to good people.
Recently, Atmore's Pepsi-Cola distributor was forced to pay a fine in penalties for violations of the youth employment provisions of the Fair Labor Standards. The company was sited on two main infractions. One is the operation of motor vehicles and forklifts by teens under the age of 18. The other infraction involved working the minors more than three hours a day, after 7:00 P.M. and more than 18 hours a week while school was in session.
We would have to wonder how many of these same kids living in this farming community operate farm equipment probably much larger, more powerful and more dangerous than the forklifts in question. Yet it is perfectly legal under the current child labor regulations for these same teens to operate farm equipment.
Also, another point to consider is that if some of our kids did not have after school jobs what would they do in their spare time? They were working, earning extra money and contributing to something. They could be out on the streets doing something worse. There is a reason they say the idle mind is the devil's workshop.
Like most government regulations, they begin with the best of intentions, in this case, protecting minors from exploitation and dangerous work. However, as we often see, when the federal government becomes involved, those well-meaning regulations can become so detailed and byzantine, that it would be difficult to not find some violation.
Ignorance of the law, is of course, no defense. The company's owners complied with the investigation and cooperated fully. In the end, the company paid a $15,000 fine and learned a lesson.
But we point out that none of the young men involved with this matter suffered any injury. Also, all those involved were hired as part of a collaborative effort between Pepsi and Escambia County High School. According to Hooper Matthews, the company has been active in the work-study program with the high school since 1968.
Given the circumstances, we believe the fine was over the top for such a community-minded organization.
It is unfortunate that because of this incident Pepsi has had to implement a company policy preventing them from hiring anyone under the age of 18. How many other businesses and school kids will this affect? We can't say, but acknowledge businesses might have to make changes to protect themselves.
According to a statement by the company's ownership, "Pepsi would like to emphasize that it did not knowingly or intentionally violate any state or federal law. When the Department of Labor notified Pepsi that it was concerned that Pepsi may have violated the law, Pepsi cooperated with the Department and immediately took steps to ensure that it is operating in full compliance with the law."
We urge all our local small business owners to go to www.youthrules.dol.gov and carefully review the fair labor laws regarding minors. Don't let one unfortunate incident scare you away from giving Atmore's youth a chance to learn a good work ethic.

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