Tony Downs Food Company has agreed to pay $300,000 in penalties over issues of child labor in their plants.

An investigation uncovered the employment of children as young as 13 in hazardous working conditions, including operating meat grinders and other equipment during overnight shifts and exceeding the legal limits on work hours. As part of a consent order with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, along with the small fine, the company has also committed to complying with child labor laws and hiring a compliance specialist.

The investigation found that Tony Downs employed at least eight children aged 14 to 17 at its Madelia plant. Some employees were hired before reaching the age of 18. These young employees were reportedly involved in tasks that included operating meat grinders, ovens, and forklifts during overnight shifts and working in areas where meat products are flash-frozen with carbon monoxide and ammonia. They were also alleged to have worked longer hours than permitted by law, and some sustained injuries.

The company, in the agreement, states that it “disputes and does not admit the violations of law alleged” by the labor department.

The investigation was initiated after a complaint about working conditions at the Madelia plant. Investigators conducted an overnight inspection, interviewed workers, documented working conditions, and contacted area school districts. The labor department discovered that Tony Downs was aware of the issue and found minors working under assumed names who were not native English speakers.

Minnesota law prohibits the employment of minors in hazardous conditions, and it places restrictions on work hours for employees under 16, including not working past 9 p.m., working more than eight hours a day, or working more than 40 hours per week.

The agreement reflects the importance of adherence to child labor laws and the protection of young workers from hazardous conditions. It also underscores the need for employers to verify the ages and identities of their employees and to provide a safe working environment for all workers, regardless of age. But the small fine, less than a week’s revenue, is probably going to be an acceptable cost if they choose to continue these practices.