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We stepped into a hornet’s nest recently.  Quite by accident.

Which I suppose is the only way one steps into a hornet’s nest.

Apparently, my wife and I run a sweat shop.

At least that’s what our state Department of Labor seems to fear.

Two months ago we hired a friend’s daughter (a HS Senior) for some after school and Saturday help. About 12 hours per week on average. This little gal has been bopping around the store since grade school. Her mama even worked in the store with us for awhile.

Then enters an auditor from the TN Dept of Labor, Child Labor Standards Unit, Shower Curtain Ring Division, Office of Gotcha.

Ok, I made up that last half.  That’s from Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

The auditor asked to see our records for all minors in our employ (only 1 of our 11 employees – our friend’s daughter) including proof of age and record of 30 minute un-paid breaks for any shift over 6 hours.

ME:  Umm records? Yeah…’bout those. See this is Savannah.  A friend’s daughter. She just started working here.

Officer Gotcha:  We still need records.  Including proof of unpaid breaks.

Me:  Unpaid breaks?  Well… see one little quirky perk about our culture is that we don’t require our employees to clock out for their breaks. We’ve always done that and our team respects and appreciates it much.

Officer Gotcha:  That’s all well and good for everyone except a minor.  I’m gonna need to write you up.

Me:  Well, that fine, but is this a citation? A ticket?  Am I in trouble?  Is there a fine?

Officer Gotcha:  I can’t say but any concerns you have can be addressed through your legislator. 

And so our state Department of Labor decries our child labor infringement in a legal complaint that was served to us this week. 

Fine: $4000

As in $500 times eight different days that our friend’s daughter worked under such undocumented and slavish conditions.

We will appeal – in the name of all that is decent and just.

And in the name that is on our business checking account!

Have We Lost Our Minds?

I appreciate why laws such as these came into existence.  We truly must protect innocents from exploitation and slavish work conditions.

Yet I fear we are losing (or actually, have lost) our capacity as a society to govern with common sense and sound judgment within the spirit of the laws of our land.

It becomes a slippery slope to a form of “gotcha government” that audits and enforces mindlessly and diminishes the productivity and prosperity of the very land it seeks to protect.

Whether it’s in the form of overly complicated tax codes, opportunistically placed red light cameras or letter-of-the-law enforcement.

Without regard for situational context and the realities of an imperfect world, we stand the chance of frustrating our own desires to make things better if we do so mainly and mostly through legislation and litigation.

Ends cannot justify means without sacrificing the heart and soul of even our best intentions.

That goes for any society, religion, or organization that has ever touched the face of the earth.

Local business exists to serve its community through products, jobs, and value through taxes.

Gotcha government left unchecked jeopardizes that small but consistently productive golden goose.

If you support these thoughts, please forward to a member of your local business community and encourage them with your support. 

They will immensely appreciate the gesture.

Make Life Count