Restaurants Can Allow Young Employees In Kitchen Without Fearing Civil Penalty

Restaurants Can Allow Young Employees In Kitchen Without Fearing Civil Penalty

By Terri Jo Neff |

Restaurants across Arizona won a majority legal victory Thursday that protects those who give jobs to minors under age 16 even if the job requires the minor to walk into or pass through the restaurant’s kitchen on occasion.

The issue arose after the popular Sofrita Restaurant in Fountain Hills was accused by the Industrial Commission of Arizona in 2018 of several violations related to its hiring of three hostesses who were under the age of 16. The Spanish-Latin restaurant was also hit with a $1,000 civil penalty.

Sofrita cooperated with the investigation, which confirmed the hostesses are tasked at times to take dirty dishes into the kitchen and sometimes used the restaurant’s rear entrance when reporting to work. This required the hostesses to walk through the kitchen to get to the hostess stand.

The ICA investigator cited Sofrita for three alleged violations of Arizona Revised Statute 23-232 for having employees under age 16 engage in activities “in, about, or in connection with” the kitchen. A fourth violation stemmed from the restaurant’s alleged failure to keep proper records to ensure the young employees did not violate ARS 23-233 in regard to how many hours a minor can work.

Sofrita challenged the violations and requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. At the hearing, the state investigator testified that the child labor statute means employees under the age of 16 “cannot be in the kitchen” for any reason, not even simply to clock in for their shift.

Judge Jonathan Hauer rejected the Industrial Commission’s position, finding that Arizona’s child labor laws do not regulate “casual encounters” between minor employees and a restaurant’s kitchen space.  The findings also concluded there was an “inadequate factual basis” for the ICA to impose the $1,000 penalty.

The State of Arizona appealed Hauer’s findings last year.

On June 16, the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed Hauer’s rejection of ICA’s interpretation of Arizona Revised Statute 23-232 which prohibits restaurant employees under the age of 16 from working “in, about, or in connection with…cooking and baking.” The appellate opinion also affirmed Hauer’s finding which vacated the $1,000 civil penalty against the restaurant. 

In a unanimous appellate decision, Presiding Judge David D. Weinzweig wrote that the statute the ICA relied on never mentions the word kitchen, and nothing supports the ICA’s reading that employers like Sofrita must prevent minors under age 16 from entering the kitchen.  

The opinion also pushes back on the ICA investigator’s focus on the words “in, about or in connection with” the kitchen without tethering them to the statute’s specific prohibited activities of cooking and baking.

“It does not forbid employees under 16 years old from walking in the kitchen,” Weinzweig wrote, adding that federal regulations also undermine the ICA’s broad interpretation of a kitchen prohibition.

Weinzweig pointed to the Fair Labor Standards Act which permits minors under 16 to do kitchen work such as some food preparation, cleaning of some kitchen equipment, and even entering freezers to retrieve items.

Former Fountain Hills Mayor Jerry Miles Passes Away

Former Fountain Hills Mayor Jerry Miles Passes Away

Former Fountain Hills Mayor Jerold Miles died over the weekend at the age of 84 from natural causes. Miles served as Mayor from 1996 to 1998.

“There is so much Jerry Miles accomplished that will be spoken about in the coming days and weeks, but what immediately comes to mind is that Jerry embraced Fountain Hills as his hometown and left no doubt about his commitment to our community,” said Town of Fountain Hills Mayor Ginny Dickey. “Jerry and Jackie’s generosity of time and resources in many areas… including his public service as Mayor, the arts and education… benefited many over the years, and we are the better for it.”

Miles and his wife Jackie “retired “to Fountain Hills in 1985 after he retired as an attorney from Southern California. They became full-time residents in 1990.

According to the Lower Verde Valley Hall of Fame website, Miles served as a Director of the Golden Eagle Foundation, the River of Time Foundation, the Senior Services Foundation, the Library Association, Civic Association, Historical Society, and Sunridge Foundation. He was the founder and first president of the Neighborhood Property Owners Association, a past president of the Noon Kiwanis Club, and an elder of the Fountain Hills Presbyterian Church. He was the Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year for 2003.

Former mayor Miles provided free legal services to numerous local non-profit associations, helping them become incorporated and acquire tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Service rules.

The Miles were one of the driving forces behind the development of the Town’s public art collection by being the most significant benefactors toward the acquisition of public art in the community. Today, the Town’s art collection features 150 pieces. In 2011 the public art collection was named “Milestones, an Odyssey Through Public Art” as a tribute to Jackie and Jerry Miles.

In 2012 he was instrumental in recommending to the Centennial Committee the naming of the plaza area adjacent to the Community Center and the Library/Museum as the Centennial Circle in celebration and recognition of the 100th Anniversary of Arizona’s statehood. The sculpture garden in this area was dedicated on March 18, 2017, as The Jerry Miles Sculpture Garden in recognition of his many contributions to the visual arts in Fountain Hills.