- Washington, D.C., restaurants will be required to send job offers to employees they laid off amid the pandemic when their jobs become available again per a bill passed by the D.C. Council Tuesday. The local restaurant industry pushed to reject the bill, and the Displaced Workers Right to Reinstatement and Retention Amendment Act was significantly amended in response to business owners' concerns before it was passed. The bill, effective Feb. 1, 2021, awaits Mayor Muriel Bowser's signature.
- Changes include exempting businesses with 50 or fewer employees instead of 35, allowing laid-off workers less time to decide whether they want to return to their roles and ending the requirement on June 30, 2023 instead of Dec. 31, 2024. The city council also clarified that employees are only guaranteed to return to a "substantially similar job." Workers are not guaranteed the same wages and can still be fired.
- Los Angeles passed a similar piece of legislation, called COVID-19 Right of Recall, that took effect in June which requires businesses — including hotel restaurants — to offer priority hiring for laid off workers and allow workers five business days to accept or deny the offer. Philadelphia also passed a "right to recall" law on Dec. 10 that specifically protects Black hospitality workers because of the "first fired, last hired" phenomenon that this demographic often experiences.
This legislation is good news for Washington, D.C., hospitality workers, but the measure won't impact a majority of restaurant employees in the District. Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson said that 85% of businesses in the area employ fewer than 50 workers, exempting them from the rule. Laid off employees who received severance pay will also not fall under these protections, according to DCist.
But some councilmembers and the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington are unhappy with the District's approach, which they say feels "overburdensome and harmful" to restaurants that have struggled to survive amid the pandemic — especially because many restaurants would be looking to rehire their former employees independently anyway, according to DCist.
"We disagree with the Council's support of these unnecessary operational hurdles," RAMW told members in message on Dec. 1, DCist reports. "During this time we need to focus on supporting restaurants, not imposing burdens that will make it more difficult for restaurants to operate, to keep their doors open and to staff back up to pre-pandemic levels."
The city is also expected to pass an emergency version of the bill that would go into effect immediately after signed by Bowser, according to DCist, which could further ruffle restaurant workers.
This type of legislation, and the frustration surrounding it, reflects that delicate balance that must be struck to protect both restaurant employees and employers amid dining restrictions that have financially devastated the segment. The industry will likely see similar legislation crop up as more restaurants initiate layoffs amid harsh winter weather and dining room bans. Research from Gusto, for example, suggests that winter could undo 2 million in job gains between September and August, or about $190 billion in economic activity.