McDonald's Canada is putting its temporary foreign worker program on hold while a third party conducts an audit on its use of the plan.

Stung by recent criticism of its use of foreign workers, the restaurant chain's vice-president of human resources Len Jillard says the firm needs to pause the program to prove to Canadians it's not abusing the program or its workers.

Jillard, in an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press, says McDonald's has already informed the federal government about its plans, including federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney.

In Winnipeg today, Kenney warned that employers who abuse the Temporary Foreign Worker Program could face fraud charges and possible jail time.

Three McDonald's franchises in Victoria and a pizza restaurant in Weyburn, Sask., are at the centre of program abuse allegations involving Canadian employees alleging foreign workers were given priority work status or more hours. 

McDonald's accused of favouring foreign workers

McDonald's Canada has agreed to a third-party investigation of all locations that use temporary foreign workers. (CBC)

McDonald's is in the process of taking full ownership of the three Victoria franchises from the Victoria operator who previously held an 80 per cent share in the three outlets.

A federal investigation into McDonald’s use of temporary foreign workers was launched recently after Go Public’s story about a Victoria McDonald’s franchise was expanded.

The company released a statement Wednesday that responded to the allegations. 

"McDonald’s employs more than 85,000 people across Canada; only four per cent are temporary foreign workers," the company said. "Only 268 of our more than 1,400 restaurants across the country employ temporary foreign workers."

McDonald's uses temporary foreign workers as a "last resort" for employers who can't find qualified people locally, the statement says. But when necessary, employers must prove that there is a genuine labour shortage, the foreign workers must be provided government approved minimum hours and wages and in some cases provided suitable housing.

"The program is expensive and time consuming for employers. On average, the costs of recruiting and employing a temporary foreign worker can be up to five times as much as those for domestic workers," McDonald's said. "This is why participation in the program is always undertaken as a last resort."

With files from CBC News