The operators of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Hendersonville, North Carolina, have ended a controversial program in which they solicited “volunteers” to work the drive-thru in exchange for chicken sandwiches.
The restaurant had issued the offer last week in a now-deleted post on Facebook.
“We are looking for volunteers for our new Drive Thru Express!” read the post. “Earn 5 free entrees per shift (1 hr) worked. Message us for details.”
Despite deleting the post, the restaurant’s Facebook page was soon inundated with critical comments.
“Glad to see you deleted the highly illegal volunteer post,” wrote one user under one of the restaurant’s unrelated Facebook posts. “Pay workers money not chicken.”
“So, if the chicken sandwich is the standard wage for your volunteers, then what are the potato chips and cookie? Quarterly bonuses, maybe?” another wrote.
A manager at the restaurant reportedly told a reporter for Vice that the idea behind the post was to “establish a relationship with the community.”
“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,” the manager said, according to Vice.
When contacted by phone, a different manager at the Hendersonville restaurant gave Nexstar the number for the company’s corporate public relations department. A spokesperson for the company declined to issue a statement.
A representative for Chick-fil-A, however, confirmed to Business Insider that the Hendersonville location was no longer offering the volunteer program, which was not endorsed by the company.
The North Carolina Department of Labor, meanwhile, had received “multiple inquiries” about this program, public information officer Erin Wilson of the NCDOL confirmed to Nexstar. The incident is not currently under investigation by the department, because the NCDOL does not have “any jurisdiction over volunteers, or situations where there isn’t an employer-employee relationship,” according to a statement Wilson provided.
Instead, the statement noted that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) “generally” prohibits a for-profit business from “labelling a worker as a ‘volunteer’” in order to sidestep any obligations “to pay the required wages if that individual performs work that benefits the for-profit entity.”
So far, the restaurant’s decision to end its “volunteer” program has done little to appease critics. As of Friday morning, commenters were still leaving messages on the location’s Facebook page. Several one-star reviews had also topped its Yelp listing.
“New low for a fast food chain, couldn’t believe the manager actually defended this tactic,” reads one of the reviews. “Should ask him if he’d be willing to give up his salary in lieu of food.”