- Darden, parent company of Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, rolled out a paid sick leave policy Monday for 180,000 hourly workers who did not previously have it, according to Nation's Restaurant News.
- "This is a permanent benefit that we have been working on for quite some time," Rich Jeffers, Darden spokesperson, told Nation's Restaurant News. "We did accelerate the rollout given the current environment."
- Employees will earn an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, while new employees will be able to start using accrued sick leave after 90 days of on the job.
While the novel coronavirus outbreak has put a spotlight on employees that don't have the option of working from home, a lack of paid sick leave has long been prevalent across the restaurant industry.
Only a quarter of service workers get paid sick leave, which means they either go without pay or show up to work sick. According to a 2015 study, over half of food workers said they "always" or "frequently" work when sick while 38% said they sometimes go to work sick.
That can spell disaster for restaurants and the general public, especially as the world tries to contain the spread of coronavirus. Chipotle was hit with two norovirus incidents in 2017 and 2015, impacting hundreds of customers. The company has since enforced its sick policy and hasn't had any incidents since 2017.
Darden has been particularly keen in retaining its employees, so the addition of paid sick leave will only help. Its Longhorn restaurant had all-time high retention while hourly retention rates were above industry levels as of the company’s Q2 2020, Gene Lee, Darden president CEO, told investors during the company's fiscal Q2 2020 call. Staff retention has also led to improved guest satisfaction levels, he said.
But Darden isn't the only restaurant group that has expanded its sick leave policy. Starbucks began offering part-time employees five days of sick leave over the course of a year in 2018. Chipotle is also testing unlimited PTO for restaurant support center directors and above, exercise team directors and team directors.
The Environmental Health Services also recommends creating policies where workers have to tell their managers when they are sick and offering schedules that reduce the pressure of staff calling out sick, such as having on-call workers for each shift.