Amid the coronavirus outbreak, Darden Restaurants is applying the new policy to all hourly workers who are not currently covered.

By Maria Yagoda
Updated March 09, 2020

As coronavirus cases surge and the service industry braces for the worst, one of America's biggest restaurant operators has announced a significant policy change to accommodate sick staffers. Darden Restaurants, which operates chain restaurants like Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, will offer paid sick leave to hourly workers who are not currently covered by any existing policy. (Note: A previous version of this article stated that Red Lobster was apart of Darden, which it is no longer.)

Per a statement from the company, workers will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. A spokesperson for Darden stated that it has been considering this policy for while, and "now is the right time to do it." Recent hires can use the accrued time after 90 days of employment.

Michael Neelon / Alamy Stock Photo

Currently, there is no federally-mandated sick leave policy, but as Food & Wine noted this week, many restaurant workers cannot afford to miss a paycheck and stay home when they are feeling sick.

Social epidemiologist Carolyn C. Cannuscio, an associate professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said that controlling an epidemic requires an enormous amount of cooperation from social institutions, including workplaces. “For small businesses, the disruptions will be significant, as customers stay away and as workers get sick," she said. "Paid leave will be costly, but it is likely to pay multiple dividends.”

"This presents a risk both to the public and to workers," she continued. "Once a chef or server comes to work sick, the rest of the staff—working in close quarters over long shifts—is basically trapped. So are the customers.”

According to data from the Department of Labor, 42% of restaurant workers do not have access to paid sick leave, though many estimate that this number is higher. This means that many employees do not have the luxury of staying home when they don't feel well.

Darden, which also operates The Capital Grille, Yard House, and Bahama Breeze, is one of the first major U.S. companies to change their sick leave policy amid the spread of COVID-19.

Advertisement