Restaurants Must Offer Options to Sick Employees

Sick leave has been a hot topic in the restaurant community for ages, but it has never been more urgent than amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  Coming to work sick as a restaurant employee is almost part of the job description.  Not only is sick leave unpaid, but when you do shift work, you need to either find coverage or leave your fellow employees short-staffed and risk being fired.  Or even worse, some restaurants have a culture where calling out sick is considered weak or frivolous.  So how can restaurants provide appropriate sick leave for employees?

The dangers of sick employees coming to work have always been scary.  A sick employee at work can infect customers or co-workers.  But furthermore, an employee who doesn’t have sick-leave options feels undervalued and unhappy.  These consequences have never been direr than with the highly infectious novel coronavirus going around.

So how can restaurants offer sick leave to employees?  One option could be to overstaff.  Having a B-squad of part-time employees could help take the stress out of calling in sick.  These employees can be hired with the understanding that they will pick-up work when it’s available.

Another solution could be offering incentives for picking-up shifts for sick co-workers.  Sometimes extra money isn’t enough motivation to work additional shifts, so offering meal vouchers or drink tickets could sweeten the deal for those willing to help a co-worker in need.

Also, taking the burden off the employee to find coverage could ensure that sick employees take the time off they need to recover.  Assigning an employee to be in charge of filling vacant shifts can serve multiple purposes – an employee asked to cover a shift is more likely to say yes if a manager is asking versus a fellow server or line cook.  Furthermore, employees will feel taken care of when the restaurant assumes the responsibility of filling out the schedule while the employee is unwell.

Like most sick leave policies, restrictions can exist, but during this pandemic, employers, employees, and even customers have to find creative solutions to problems that haven’t been faced before.  Make sure to train your staff to alert someone immediately if they are feeling sick, and put protocols into place on what to do when this happens.  Even if you can’t offer paid sick leave, create an environment where your employees feel comfortable calling out sick without putting their jobs at risk. And note, most businesses are required to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

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