Company Fined for Hiring Underage Call Center Workers

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Salt Lake City, UT—A recent federal investigation has uncovered a legion of underage call-center workers employed by an Orem, UT company.

Western Wats, a company which conducts market research and political surveys, and which operates call centers in seven states, allegedly employed children as young as 13 years old as phone operators.

Three of the employees were 13, and an additional 1,479 children aged 14 or 15 years old were working more hours than they should have been. Current law dictates that children under the age of 16 cannot legally work more than three hours on a school day or eight hours on a weekend day.

Children as young as 13 cannot be legally employed anywhere except on a farm.

Lee Ann Dunbar, the district director for the Department of Labor in Utah, Montana and Wyoming, said that it was unusual for a company to have hired so many children to perform jobs for them, as well as the fact that the children were hired to make cold calls to adults. “The company would have to explain that,” said Dunbar.

One of the 13-year-olds was working as an envelope stuffer, and was the daughter of a corporate executive. According to corporate legal counsel for Western Wats, Stacey Jenkins, the other 13-year-olds were hired as the result of a paperwork glitch and were dismissed immediately upon the company’s determination of their real age.

“We do disagree with the DOL’s finding and have appeal on several grounds,” added Jenkins. He also told reporters that children under the age of 16 make up 5 to 7 percent of the workforce at Western Wats, which also faces Department of Labor violations in Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming, in addition to the allegations based in Utah. The company employes approximately 11,000 people in total.

The Department of Labor levied a fine of $550,000 against Western Wats in the case. This figure, according to officials, was the highest penalty of its kind ever assessed against a company in the United States.

Other violations were uncovered during the federal investigation, including children being paid less than the federal minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 an hour. These violations, said Dunbar, seemed to be an oversight. Western Wats agreed to pay $5,000 in back wages.

Dunbar declined to say what had triggered the investigation against the marketing research company in the first place.

 

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