The spread of the coronavirus has companies urging employees to stay home if they’re sick, but for workers in the restaurant industry, staying home isn’t an option when many can’t afford to miss a shift because they are not offered paid sick leave.
Darden Restaurants — who owns Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, among others — announced on Monday that they will start providing paid sick leave to all of their hourly workers in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The announcement comes after journalist Judd Legum of Popular Information put the company on blast in an article for not providing over 170,000 hourly employees with paid sick leave. Only 11 states currently have laws in place that require paid sick leave to be provided to workers.
Legum spoke with numerous Darden employees on their experiences. Some workers claimed that they would get “written up” if they called in sick and would ultimately lose shifts; while other employees said many servers would come into work while sick, regardless of the managements suggestion for them to stay home.
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Legum also created a Twitter thread on the subject, and within hours Olive Garden and the parent company Darden reached out, saying: “We are proud to announce that all of our hourly employees are receiving permanent, paid sick leave benefits, effective today.”
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According to Bloomberg, Darden already had paid-leave policy changes in the works, but coronavirus had sped up the negotiations. With the new policy, employees will receive one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Current employees will be credited for the time they have worked in the past 26 weeks, while new employees will not be able to use their sick leave time until 90 days into their employment.
As of Monday, there have been 595 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. The majority of the cases are in Washington state, California and New York.
The CDC says the best prevention methods are basic forms of hygiene — careful hand washing, avoiding touching the face, moving away from people who are coughing or sneezing and staying home at signs of illness.
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