- Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol told CNBC on Tuesday the company won't require workers to get the coronavirus vaccine, but will strongly encourage it.
- The company will pay for the costs associated with the vaccine, he said.
- These comments follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations that foodservice workers be prioritized with "other essential workers" during the early stages of vaccine distribution.
With restaurant workers among those recommended to receive vaccines before the general public, operators will have to quickly decide how they plan to approach the issue. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in Dec. 16 guidance that employers could require employees to show proof that they have received the vaccine.
Ensuring restaurant workers, especially those that come into direct contact with the public, are vaccinated could help improve customers’ willingness to dine in and help the industry move toward opening at greater capacity, Kathy Dudley Helms, a member of labor and employment law firm Ogletree Deakins' Coronavirus Taskforce and Healthcare Practice Group, told FSR Magazine. But there will likely be several exceptions to this rule, such as religious objections or pregnant workers who may not be able to take the vaccine due to health concerns.
Chipotle isn't the only chain saying it won't require staff to take the vaccine. Cousins Subs said in an email to Restaurant Dive that it won’t mandate workers to get the vaccine becaise the company doesn't want to step into employees' medical rights, which it feels the requirement would do.
During the pandemic, Chipotle has done a lot to cater to its employees, including offering $6.5 million in discretionary bonuses to field leaders, apprentices and managers. The fast casual chain also expanded its emergency paid leave benefits earlier this year to cover workers who were directly impacted by the pandemic. The chain already offered a sick leave policy that provides three paid sick days, as well as vacation and personal leave options.