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Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants adds sick leave for 180,000 hourly workers

The casual dining giant accelerates roll out of benefit given wake of coronavirus

Darden Restaurants, casual dining parent of Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, is now providing sick leave for hourly workers previously not covered by the company.

The new paid sick leave policy became effective Monday, impacting about 180,000 hourly workers who until now would not get paid if unable to work due to illness. That has become a growing topic of concern in the hospitality industry. Roughly 58% of service workers have access to paid sick leave, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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.

Last week, Chipotle Mexican Grill workers protested in New York City, accusing the Newport Beach, Calif.-based chain of not abiding by sick leave laws. 

Chipotle told NRN that it offers employees three paid sick days starting on the first day of employment.

Employees that are not feeling well are required to stay home and we’ll welcome then back when they are symptom free, Laurie Schalow, chief reputation officer, said in a statement.

Darden said hourly workers will accrue sick time at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. 

“Current team members have been granted a starting balance based on their most recent 26 weeks of work and can use this benefit immediately,” the company said.

New employees will begin accruing sick leave upon hire and may use it after 90 days of employment. The pay rate will be based on the team member’s 13-week average.  

“We are fortunate to have outstanding team members working in our restaurants committed to bringing our brands to life and creating lasting memories for our guests,” CEO Gene Lee said in a statement.  “As we continue to make investments in our employees, we strengthen our greatest competitive edge — because when our team members win, our guests win.”

Darden's portfolio also includes Yard House, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze and Eddie V's.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven

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