Eater recently published an article about Chipotle’s new sick day policy. Basically, after years of foodborne illness outbreaks (specifically a Norovirus outbreak in 2017 that could have easily been prevented if a sick employee had just stayed home), Chipotle has decided to give its employees 24 hours of paid sick leave a year.
However, the angle that Eater chose to focus on, and that most of the “outrage” that followed (this hasn’t blown up nearly as much as, say, Panera’s food reheating techniques), is that in order to get paid out for your sick day, you have to talk to a nurse to verify that you’re really sick and it’s not just a hangover or something.
My first take-away from this was that I’ve dealt with these kinds of over-the-phone triage nurses before, and frankly, they tend to be about as helpful as an elementary school nurse. I had burned off a chunk of my arm, was forced to file an incident report, which led to one of these calls in which I was basically told to put a bandaid on it. I’m not sure to what extent a nurse can differentiate between a hangover and, say, the flu, over the course of a fifteen minute long phone call other than by asking, “did you drink a lot last night?” And honestly? Even if it is a hangover, they shouldn’t be there anyway, even if it’s more of a productivity issue than a safety one.
Also, nurses like this exist, so they could just be saying you’re faking it either way.
The bigger thing no one seems to be focusing on is that a major quick-service restaurant chain has begun offering paid sick days.
Not even at my current job, a full-time cook position with full medical, dental, and vision benefits at a large corporate chain, do I have paid sick days. They’re basically unheard of in the foodservice industry.
This is because service is inherently perishable. If a cook calls in sick, they can’t just cook harder the next day, those customers will be long gone. Either someone has to come in on their day off (I shit you not, my chef is trying to call me in as I’m writing this), or the kitchen is down a cook for the day.
Everyone resents people who call in. But, I suspect this may mostly be fueled by jealousy. Most of us who work through our illnesses don’t do so out of undying loyalty to the company’s productivity or sympathy for our coworkers, but because we can’t afford to miss a day’s worth of wages. So, everyone hates the ones who do call in, because everyone should have to suffer like they did.
I’ve told people who don’t work foodservice about this several times, and their response is always utter disgust. Because, obviously, you don’t want sick people handling your food. But as long as foodservice workers are still broke as shit, sick workers will keep working, endangering their own health and the health of all their customers.
Some people might argue that this is another argument in favor of automating foodservice. That’s a whole nother can of worms for another article some other day, but the short version is something along the lines of “we shouldn’t replace jobs with robots if we live in a society where people need jobs to survive.”
It’s probably too optimistic to say that this Chipotle policy is going to lead foodservice workers in a proletarian revolution full of paid sick days or a universal-income-laden utopia. But I can dream, can’t I? In the meantime, I’ll be sowing seeds of dissent and sick days at my workplace on what’s supposed to be my day off.