Paid sick leave case study: Plum Bistro

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When Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn signed that city’s paid sick leave ordinance into law in 2011, the setting was Makini Howell’s Plum Bistro.

Howell, chef-owner of three vegan restaurants in Seattle — the other two are Plum Cafe and Plum Market — was an outspoken supporter of the initiative. Seattle’s law, which requires businesses with five to 49 employees to provide a minimum of five paid sick days per year and businesses with more workers to offer nine days, went into effect Sept. 1, 2012.

While many restaurant operators worry about mandated paid sick leave driving up expenses, Howell, who has about 30 employees, said her experience is that the related costs are negligible. And as word of her support for the measure spread, sales grew 20 percent over the prior year.

“We got a lot of positive press for supporting it,” she said.

Howell had in August 2011 co-authored with a family pediatrician an op-ed in The Seattle Times in which they stated, “Paid sick days will make life better for just about everyone. Period. Workplaces will be healthier because sick co-workers will stay home when contagious. People just going about their day — shopping, eating at a restaurant, getting care at a hospital, staying in a hotel, going to school or day care — will all be better off with paid sick days.”

Regulation Nation [3]

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More on paid sick leave
Regulation Nation: Paid sick leave [4]
Timeline: Tracking paid sick leave reform [5]
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Implementing paid sick leave was easy, said Howell, who has offered it for eight years. The most important part is trusting your employees; they will rise to your expectations, she said.

“If you tell us you’re sick, we believe you’re sick,” Howell said. “It has been a really good thing for our business.”

Obviously, there is a cost associated with paid sick leave, but it’s lower than the costs associated with employee turnover, she said.

“You have to want to keep people longer,” she said. “People have to look at it as a job they can depend on, not just that you depend on them. It’s a two-way street.”

Because Howell’s business is small, the sick leave request process is simple. Employees are expected to notify their manager if they’re ill, and many even find someone to take over their shift. The manager then passes that information along to payroll to ensure the ill employee is paid despite not clocking in to work. Sometimes it’s as easy as putting a Post-it note on the payroll supervisor’s desk.

It’s basic, but it works, Howell said. If an employer is worried employees will abuse a sick leave policy, those employees were likely the wrong people to hire in the first place, she said.

“We have not had a whole lot of folks call out sick,” Howell said. “I think a lot of people don’t abuse it because they want to keep it. We’ve definitely had no abuse of the policy.”

Restaurant operators need to focus on the good will they are building among workers and the fact that they are minimizing the chances of a foodborne-illness outbreak — an event that can be very costly in terms of lost business, bad public relations and possible lawsuits down the road.

“[Opponents] are focused on the $40 you’re paying that person when they’re out,” she said. “The bigger picture is that [sick employees] could infect your business, and you could be shut down. I don’t understand why people don’t see that.”

Contact Erin Dostal at [email protected] [6].
Follow her on Twitter: @ErinDostal [7]