Consumer Fraud

Teddy bear company cited for FLSA child labor violations

Build-A-Bear-Workshop Inc. is listed on Fortune’s 2009 list of the “100 Best Companies to Work for,” but the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division disagrees — at least where the company’s youngest employees are concerned. The government agency cited the St. Louis-based company for violations of child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and ordered it to pay $25,600 in civil penalties.

Build-A-Bear Workshop, an international retailer with more than 400 locations worldwide, allows customers to design and create their own teddy bears. The Wage and Hour Division found that many Build-A-Bear’s Midwestern retail locations violated government regulations prohibiting workers under 18 years old from performing hazardous activities and working in potentially dangerous environments.

In one instance, 16- and 17-year old employees routinely loaded and operated industrial trash compactors. Another violation involved underage employees operating and riding in a freight elevator.

Enrique Rodriguez, the Wage and Hour Division’s district director in St. Louis, told Wichita’s KAKE that “Every year, young employees are injured while performing prohibited work.” His office launched regional investigations as part of the child labor mall initiative, aimed at bringing shopping malls into better compliance with FLSA regulations.

“The department’s hazardous orders regulations exist to promote safety and prevent workplace injuries in the nation’s youth workforce,” he told KAKE.

Rodriguez also told KAKE that Build-A-Bear has fully cooperated with the Wage and Hour Division and has taken the proper measures to avoid future violations.

Earlier this year, the same child labor initiative uncovered multiple violations of the FLSA youth employment provisions by retail establishments Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. A random investigation of 19 stores, restaurants, and movie theaters at 3 different malls found 50 minors operating dangerous equipment such as trash compactors and paper balers.