The burrito chain wants to offer teenagers work experience, but some of that experience violated Massachusetts state law.

Despite its successes, Chipotle can't seem to avoid controversy. The Tex-Mex chain’s burritos are beloved by legions of diehard fans, and yet, the company regularly finds itself in the news for reasons that are far less savory than their barbacoa filling, from unlawful labor practices to those infamous contamination cases. This week, the latest revelation came from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office which announced that the state had reached a “nearly $2 million settlement to resolve child labor and earned sick time violations.”

In an emailed statement, Chief Corporate Reputation Officer Laurie Schalow framed the company’s response by writing, “We believe that in hiring workers beginning at age 16, we can provide younger employees with valuable experiences and provide a compelling work environment.”

A Chipotle restaurant location
Credit: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

Still, she also stated, “We are committed to ensuring that our restaurants are in full compliance with all laws,” which it appears like, for a long time, they weren’t. The Office of Attorney General Maura Healey explains that Chipotle’s more than 50 corporate-owned Massachusetts locations had an estimated 13,253 child labor violations and other state wage and hour law violations from 2015 to 2019—not an insignificant number. Examples included a minor working past midnight (the incident which sparked the investigation) and 16- and 17-year-old employees working beyond the 9-hour daily limit and 48-hour weekly limit.

Certainly, these stories could have multiple sides: Maybe the teens wanted to earn extra money or maybe these were simply oversights? Regardless, the law is the law, and Healey took the Mexican Grill to task. “Chipotle is a major national restaurant chain that employs thousands of young people across the country and it has a duty to ensure minors are safe working in its restaurants,” she said. “We hope these citations send a message to other fast food chains and restaurants that they cannot violate our child labor laws and put young people at risk.”

As a result, Chipotle was cited $1.37 million in restitution and penalties and “voluntarily agreed to pay $500,000 towards a fund to be administered by the AG’s Office to benefit young people through education programs about child labor and enforcement of the laws, as well as training and workforce development for young workers,” according to state. The AG’s Office also noted that Chipotle “has come into compliance with Massachusetts child labor laws, and cooperated with the AG’s investigation.”

Meanwhile, Schalow also wanted people to know that “Chipotle gives workers industry-leading benefits such as debt-free degrees, tuition reimbursement up to $5,250 per year, access to mental healthcare, financial planning tools, and the opportunity for quarterly bonuses for all employees, including hourly crew members, up to a month’s worth of pay per year.”

That said, just four months ago, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio accused Chipotle of violating its Fair Workweek Law which requires restaurant chains to provide employees with predictable schedules.