The maker of the popular Fisher Scones, a staple at the annual Washington State Fair, has been cited for more than 1,500 instances of overworking teenagers — the most work-hour violations involving minors the state has ever uncovered, according to the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I).
State investigators found Woodinville-based Conifer Specialties was responsible for 1,560 instances of teens working more hours than allowed by state law, involving 78 teens between 14 and 15 years old and 139 teens between 16 and 17 years old, according to a Wednesday L&I statement. Of the 1,560 violations, 426 involved teens working during school hours.
There were also more than 100 instances of teens missing meal breaks, which can help prevent on-the-job injuries, the statement said. Many of the youth were also home-schooled, attending private school or not enrolled in school.
“Child labor laws exist to strike a balance between providing a meaningful work experience for young people and keeping them safe on the job,” Josie Bryan, L&I youth employment specialist, said in the statement. “The goal is to ensure a youth’s health, well-being, and educational opportunities.”
Conifer — a specialty food and drink-mix manufacturing company founded in 1977 — has until Dec. 23 to appeal the citation, which includes a $45,100 fine, the statement said. The company, currently owned by John Patrick Heily, also manufactures Canterbury Naturals and Canterbury Organics.
“We deeply regret the findings of The Washington State Dept. of Labor and Industries. … These unintentional infractions occurred during the fair and festivals season in 2018 and 2019 and we were made aware of them in Fall 2019,” Fisher Scones President and CEO Mike Maher said in a Thursday statement. “We moved quickly to address the matter, investing in new systems and training to ensure Conifer Foods and our subsidiary, Fisher Scones, are in full compliance with all state and federal employment requirements.”
According to Maher, new changes include switching from paper to biometric timecards for employees, implementing digital consent forms that require parent, teacher and student signatures and conducting additional training for on-site supervisors.
The company has also made the decision to stop employing temporary workers younger than 17, Maher said.
“As a locally based business since 1905, we take very seriously our role as both employer and active member of the community,” he said in the statement. “We are proud of Fisher Scone’s legacy of employing local residents at our beloved fairs and festivals.”
The state began the investigation after receiving a report that a teenager was injured while using a commercial-grade mixer between August and November of 2019, the statement said.
Under state law, teenagers ages 14 to 15 can work no more than 16 hours a week during school hours, or no more than three hours per day for six days a week between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Teenagers ages 16 to 17 can work no more than 20 hours a week during school hours, or no more than four hours a day for six days a week between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
If companies want to allow minors to work more hours, they must obtain a minor work variance with the state, the statement said.