BOSTON (WPRI) — An Oregon-based daycare chain has been ordered to pay more than half a million dollars for not allowing employees to take meal breaks or paid sick leave, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell.

KinderCare Learning Centers, which runs 62 daycare centers in Massachusetts, has agreed to pay $543,091 in restitution and civil penalties as part of a settlement with the state.

An investigation into KinderCare’s workplace practices revealed that employees were unable to take meal breaks due to understaffing. Joy Campbell said KinderCare would also violate wage laws by deducting 20-minute breaks from employees’ paychecks.

Massachusetts law requires employees who work a shift of six hours or more to take a 30-minute, uninterrupted meal break. Joy Campbell said the short breaks that KinderCare deducted from employees’ paychecks are considered compensable time and therefore must be paid.

The investigation also revealed that KinderCare made it nearly impossible for employees to take paid sick time by imposing extra barriers like doctor’s notes. Joy Campbell said employers can only ask for a doctor’s note under limited circumstances.

“KinderCare demonstrated a pattern of denying their employees access to meal breaks, earned wages, and paid sick time,” Joy Campbell said. “My office will continue to hold accountable those who violate our wage and hour laws.”

KinderCare operates daycares in Fall River, Taunton and Mansfield.

In a statement to 12 News, KinderCare provided insight into the investigation:

At KinderCare, we believe our teachers are at the heart of everything we do. They play a vital role in our ability to provide high-quality care for children.

Much like the broader early education sector, we’ve had teacher staffing issues, particularly in Massachusetts. Staffing in the state has unique challenges because it requires that we have a certified teacher in the classroom at all times. For a teacher to be “certified,” they must have taken a college level course in child development and have nine months of experience in the specific age they are teaching. Due to these requirements, there has been a shortage of certified teachers in the state, which has only been compounded by the pandemic and continued teacher shortages.

The state mandates that all teachers have a 30-minute break, and there are multiple reasons why our teachers did not take these breaks. Many of them asked to work through their lunch breaks so that they could be paid more or leave work earlier to attend to other responsibilities. And in other cases, we asked teachers to work through their meal breaks to avoid classroom closures and disrupting care for our families. Teachers can voluntarily opt not to take their breaks (and we are allowed to ask them to do so); however, we had difficulty proving that teachers had voluntarily missed their meal breaks. 

We’re developing training and securing additional dedicated support for our Massachusetts programs. We are eager to work with state lawmakers to find additional solutions to the broader challenges facing early child care providers in Massachusetts.