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Paid sick leave becomes an issue for hourly workers once again with the introduction of the coronavirus.

With the pandemic around COVID-19, restaurants like McDonald’s, Starbucks have introduced new sick leave policies

While some chains are changing policies, Chipotle is one that, so far, hasn’t

Due to coronavirus, on March 10, Democrats in Congress proposed legislation that would require employers to give workers 14 days of paid sick leave during public health emergencies, effective immediately. Additionally, the legislation would ensure paid sick leave covered days when a child’s school is closed due to a public health emergency or anyone in the home is quarantined or isolated due to public health concerns.

The bill was not passed.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC,) an organization that seeks to improve the wages and working conditions of restaurant employees, estimates that 10 states, Washington, D.C., and 35 localities legally require sick leave, meaning approximately only 25% of restaurant workers in the US are covered by some form of sick leave law.

Without laws, the power is in the hands of the restaurant chains to address employee needs during the crisis. And when laws are present, they do not always apply across all units of a restaurant chain, something that users pointed out on Twitter.

In a tweet on March 9, Judd Legum, a journalist covering “politics and power,” listed the Darden brands that did not offer paid sick leave.

Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers told NRN that the company was considering updating its policy for hourly workers. But, amid coronavirus concerns and widespread media coverage, the company accelerated the change.

“This is a permanent benefit that we have been working on for quite some time. We did accelerate the roll out given the current environment,” he said.

Read more about Darden’s policies >>

Darden wasn’t the only brand to alter paid sick leave policies this week. McDonalds, the world’s largest foodservice chain, announced that workers at the brands company-owned stores would receive paid sick leave if workers are feeling ill or need to be quarantined in their homes.

Under that policy, only 700 units out of over 14,000 domestic units are company-owned and would be affected.

Read more about McDonald’s policies >>

In response to coronavirus, Noodles & Co. added emergency pay for quarantined workers at its company stores. Enacted as a stop gap and not a permanent policy addition, all hourly employees will receive pay if they test positive for COVID-19.

“Noodles will pay the team member the average of their weekly pay based on total hours worked over the past eight weeks for a maximum of two weeks,” the company said in a statement.  The move now covers 7,000 workers at the company.

While not a long-term plan for paid sick leave, the company said one is “in the works.”

Read more about Noodles & Company’s policies >>

Starbucks, one of the only chains to have an employee test positive for coronavirus at a location, announced “emergency catastrophe pay” that temporarily pays employees who are quarantined or have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“At Starbucks, you should never have to choose between work and taking care of yourself,” Rossann Williams, executive vice president of Starbucks, said in an open letter to all employees.

The coffee giant announced that anyone in a “high risk” category who works at its stores is entitled to 14 days of catastrophe pay. That also applies to those who have been forced to isolate whether or not they’re showing symptoms.

Read more about Starbucks’ policies >>

And on Thursday, Shake Shack sent an email to all customers announcing the brand’s newest policies surrounding the pandemic. Among those outlined, the New York-based brand noted that the brand has always provided paid sick leave to employees.

One brand that so far hasn’t changed policies regarding employee sick leave during the outbreak is Chipotle. The company’s current policy is that employees receive three paid sick days starting on the first day of employment. The company commented late Friday (Eastern time) that employees would recieve "expanded emergency leave benefits for employees impacted by COVID-19" in an e-mail to customers.

No word on what the expanded benefits will entail.

This is following an employee-led walkout at a Midtown Manhattan New York City Chipotle location on March 6 amid concerns that the chain was forcing employees to work while sick.

This was one of four New York City walkouts at Chipotles across the city in a week.

Chipotle released a statement regarding the employee allegations in the walkout, saying that the chain fully complies with the Sick and Safe Leave Act. But not everyone agreed with that assertation.  

“We passed the Paid Sick Leave law so people don’t have to choose between taking care of their families when they are sick, and taking care of their families by going to work. We are gravely disappointed to see Chipotle violating this law, especially at a moment that staying home when sick is a major recommendation from federal health agencies to halt the spread of the Coronavirus,” Councilmember Mark Levine, head of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, said in response to the allegations.

To learn more about how other restaurant chains are addressing issues during coronavirus, including employee sick leave policies, visit

Update: This story has been updated to reflect Chipotle's announcement that the chain would be expanding employee sick benefits, and to reflect Darden's proactive stance on crafting paid sick leave, which was accelerated due to coronavirus.

Contact Holly at [email protected]

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