A large phone data collection firm was hit with a $550,000 fine this week for allegedly hiring three 13-year-olds to staff its phone banks and for giving too many hours to more than a thousand employees between 14- and 16-years-old.

The Department of Labor fined the Orem, Utah based Western Wats Center for two violations of the Fair Labor Standard Act. First, it alleged that the phone firm hired 1,479 14 and 15-year-olds who worked more than the allowed amount of hours. Under the law, children that age can be employed but cannot work more than three hours per day, 18 hours per week during the school year or 40 hours per week when school is in recess.

Second, the Labor Department accused the company of illegally hiring three 13-year-olds. With the exception of farms, 13-year-olds cannot be legally hired in the United States.

Stacey Jenkins, the Western Wats' corporate counsel, told Politics that the company has already filed an appeal. The fine came after a months-long investigation with which the company cooperated, he said, and the Labor Department did not reveal many details with the fine’s announcement.

"We don't really know the specifics," he said. "There is nothing inherently unlawful about employing individuals between the ages of 14 and 16."

Jenkins also explained that of the three 13-year-olds two were mistakenly hired. When the corporate center received the paperwork and noted that they were 13, one had already turned 14 and the other was dismissed. The third was the daughter of one of the company's executives.

While the fine is among the largest ever imposed for such a violation, Jenkins pointed out that the company is appealing the severity of the penalty. He also said that even though the number of claims - 1,482 - seems high, that number only represents about 5 percent of the company’s work force.

The company, Jenkins added, is not being fined for any sort of abusive work place violations.

Jeremy P. Jacobs is the staff writer at Politics. He can be reached at jjacobs@politicsmagazine.com