“We are looking for volunteers for our new Drive Thru Express!” the Hendersonville, North Carolina store wrote Tuesday in a Facebook post that has since been deleted. “Earn 5 free entries per shift (1 hour) worked. Send us a message for more details.
The store was met with backlash for appearing to ignore the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the longstanding federal law that dictates how employers must pay employees for all hours worked. The Hendersonville location, which is run by a franchisee, responded to the online blowback saying the ‘volunteer-based opportunity’ was for people who ‘think it’s a good fit for them’ , and argued that it was different from full or part -time employment.
“Several people have signed up and love doing it and have done it multiple times,” the outlet wrote in a separate post. “People who sign up for this have chosen it voluntarily.”
A spokesperson for Atlanta-headquartered Chick-fil-A told The Washington Post on Thursday that the Hendersonville store has “decided to end this program.”
“Most restaurants are privately owned and operated, and this was a program at a privately owned restaurant,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “This has not been endorsed by Chick-fil-A, Inc.”
A Chick-fil-A store manager declined to comment and directed all questions to company representatives. Joel Benson, the Hendersonville restaurant operator, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Jennifer Haigwood, director of communications for the North Carolina Department of Labor, told the Post in a statement that while the agency has no jurisdiction over volunteers or situations where there is no employer- employee, the FLSA’s requirements regarding private for-profit employers “are clear that there cannot be an employee who provides ‘volunteer’ work for that for-profit employer.”
“Generally, labeling a worker as a ‘volunteer’ will not relieve the employer of their FLSA obligation to pay required wages if that person is performing work that benefits the for-profit entity,” Haigwood said.
Known for touting its “family-friendly” and “Bible-based” principles, including closing on Sundays, privately owned Chick-fil-A is one of the nation’s most profitable fast-food chains, with more than 2 600 restaurants in 47 states, DC, Canada and Puerto Rico.
A 2020 report by Technomic, a restaurant industry consulting firm, estimated that Chick-fil-A brought in about $11.3 billion in sales for 2019, trailing only McDonald’s and Starbucks among chains in restaurants. In 2021, the average Chick-fil-A store outside of a mall made more than $8.1 million in annual revenue, according to franchise disclosure documents obtained by Restaurant Business magazine.
Chick-fil-A has also faced criticism for its anti-LGBTQ stances, particularly when the company’s chief executive, Dan Cathy, said in 2012 that he was opposed to same-sex marriage. The company later said its culture was to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect”. A Decatur, Georgia store is facing a recent discrimination lawsuit from a transgender employee who accused the franchise restaurant owner of saying it was an ‘honour’ for the worker to be victim of sexual harassment and whistles.
Trans Chick-fil-A worker to be ‘honored’ with cat calls, suit claims
The Hendersonville store, located more than 20 miles south of Asheville, North Carolina, is perhaps best known for employing Madison Cawthorn as a cashier, years before he was elected a Republican member of the House. representatives of the United States. The franchisee made headlines last summer by announcing wage increases for employees who raised their wages to $19 an hour, according to the Hendersonville Times-News.
As online backlash mounted against the store this week, the location wrote in a follow-up social media post that the idea came about as a way for customers of the Hendersonville Chick-fil-A “to earn free food for just directing other guests..”
“Generally a win-win for us and the volunteer who gets Chick-fil-A for free!” the outlet wrote, according to Vice News. “That way our team can focus on serving customers in what we do best.”
A store manager defended the idea with Vice, saying the volunteer initiative reflects how some brands in the community “build a relationship” with their customers.
“As a result, the community is expressing a desire to be more of a part of what this brand does,” said manager Ryan, who declined to give the outlet his last name. “We get people all the time who want to be part of what we do. This is designed to be an opportunity for that.
Critics, however, weren’t buying what the Chick-fil-A store was selling.
“There’s so much wrong here I don’t know where to start,” one commenter posted on Reddit.
Even with the negative response to pay-for-chicken-sandwich volunteer positions, the Chick-fil-A location says it’s still looking to hire people interested in full-time and part-time positions.
Anne Branigin contributed to this report.