- Cava is giving each of its 1,600 hourly workers the opportunity to take two hours of paid leave on Tuesday, November 6 to vote, reported the Washingtonian. Co-founder Ted Xenochristos informed staff of the additional benefit in an email last week, asking for two weeks' notice to take advantage of it.
- According to the Washington Post, the two hours must be at the beginning or the end of a shift,
- Cava has teamed up with Vote.org to add state-specific voter information to its internal employee communication system. That system also provides employees with financial literacy and ESL courses.
Cava, one of the fastest-growing Mediterranean quick-service brands, might be one of the first national chains to offer such a benefit, but this election cycle has spurred a number of major employers to encourage voting. On the food manufacturing side, Tyson Foods created a company-wide voter registration initiative that helps employees navigate early voting, absentee ballots and polling locations. Retailers including Patagonia, Levi's and Walmart have launched similar voting awareness campaigns, but large food companies and restaurant chains have generally stayed out of the fray.
According to ElectionDay.org, a nonprofit that encourages companies to offer its employees paid time off to vote, only four other food companies have signed on to the informal program. Aside from Cava, they're all relatively small: a local food distribution app, a microgreens grower, a brewery and a coffee roastery. Time to Vote, another company-sponsored voting initiative, lists about a dozen other mostly small food companies. Sweetgreen and Union Square Hospitality Group are two of the biggest groups on the list alongside New Belgium and Allagash Brewing.
Company heads told CNBC that they aren't being political by offering paid leave, but rather encouraging participation in community and democracy. Cava's Xenochristos describes its offer as just another benefit, on top of its $13 base wage, paid community service and sick days, as well as parental and vacation leave for both full and part-time employees.
The election benefit comes at a time when many restaurants are battling for workers. In September Noodles & Company announced a maternity leave policy that lets mothers work an 80% schedule the four weeks before birth and four weeks of leave after at full pay. Starbucks also recently unveiled a subsidized backup childcare and adult care benefit, which is paired with higher pay and parental leave perks rolled out earlier in the year.
By providing some time off to vote, Cava is adding to the growing ways restaurants are looking to get and retain workers. The company is also tapping into a national concern around full access to voting, which tends to affect the service industry disproportionately than some others. Though state laws vary, federal law does not mandate employers to provide time off to vote. It's typically easier to let office workers arrive late, leave early or take a break in the middle of the day to vote, but retailers and restaurants that rely on hourly workers can't stay open without consistent staffing. In a 2014 Pew Research study, respondents cited work, school or another obligation as the greatest impediment to voting.