Chick-fil-A cancels volunteer program after fierce backlash. Turns out it’s illegal to use food as reward.

A gimmick to acquire help at a North Carolina fast food restaurant was canceled after they faced massive backlash for their alleged “highly illegal” volunteer promotion.

Chick-fil-A restaurants may be accustomed to facing criticism over the companies promotion of Christian values, but evidently the Hendersonville, N.C., location wasn’t anticipating a negative response to offering meals to volunteers. That was precisely what happened when store owner Joel Benson encouraged community members to help operate their new “Drive Thru Express” Monday.

“We are looking for volunteers for our new Drive Thru Express!” the Chick-fil-A restaurant wrote on its Facebook page in a since deleted post. “Earn 5 free entrées per shift (1 hr) worked. Message us for details.”

The outcry was swift and continued despite the removal of the message. The restaurant has since limited engagement on their social media accounts as a result of the backlash, but critics had managed to voice their disapproval on other posts before the feature was shut off.

“I don’t want anyone serving food to not have been trained! [It’s] unethical for a company with a previous excellent reputation to do this,” a woman wrote before asking, “Do people not want to work anymore?”

“Glad to see you deleted the highly illegal volunteer post. Pay workers’ money not chicken,” another railed.

“So, if the chicken sandwich is the standard wage for your volunteers, then what are the potato chips and cookie?” one joked. “Quarterly bonuses, maybe?”

A spokesperson for Chick-fil-A told Business insider, “Most restaurants are individually owned and operated, and it was a program at an individually owned restaurant.”

As such, Vice spoke with Ryan, a manager at the location, who tried to explain what their store was doing.

“What happens with some brands in a community is that they establish a relationship with the community,” the manager said. “As a result, there’s an expression of desire from the community to be more a part of what that brand is doing. We get people all the time that want to be a part of what we’re doing. This is designed to be an opportunity for that.”

It was further reported that employees at the Hendersonville location get paid $19 an hour and one person argued that five meals in exchange for helping direct cars wasn’t a bad deal.

The main concern was whether or not the location was in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which prohibits for-profit companies from using volunteers to do the work of paid employees. Jennifer Haigwood, North Carolina Department of Labor communications director told Fox Business that, “any private-sector employer who is covered by the FLSA is prohibited from allowing employees to volunteer services.”

Benson took to Instagram to retract and apologize for the promotion writing.

“Thanks for everyone’s concern on this matter. After carefully reviewing claims and other details brought to our attention, we have decided to stop this program and not move forward in the future,” he said. “We are always looking for fun and creative ways to engage our community. Unfortunately, we brought unnecessary negativity and misplaced regional/national attention to our town instead. I apologize for this and will continue to make all efforts to treat our guests with honor, dignity, and respect.”

Kevin Haggerty


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