Operating on thin margins, the restaurant industry has traditionally limited its sick leave policies. Only 25% of food service workers receive paid sick days in the US. In recent weeks, major quick-service restaurant chains have been updating their policies in face of the rapid spread of COVID-19. A look at the rationale behind these new paid sick leave policies shows that most restaurant chains are doing so for the benefit of both their staff and guests. Expanding paid sick leave policies aren’t just an essential means of flattening the COVID-19 curve and ultimately halting the pandemic. It may allow businesses to better earn trust from guests post-pandemic.

Why Are Companies Updating Their Policies?

Public health organizations recommend that people who are sick with or are exposed to COVID-19 to remain in self-quarantine for 14 days. The CDC recommends employers to actively encourage sick employees to stay home, whether or not they have been tested for COVID-19.

Accordingly, some private companies and restaurant chains have been following suit with new policies in line with these guidelines. Here’s a review of some restaurants that have revised their paid sick leave policies in light of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Starbucks’s catastrophe pay policy states their desire to prioritize their employees’ health over work. It provides up to 3 days for workers with symptoms, 14 days of pay for those diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19, and up to 26 additional weeks for recovery.
  • McDonald’s COVID-19 policy provides 14 days of paid leave for quarantined staff to promote the wellbeing of their workers, customers, and communities.
  • For the health of their staff, guests, and communities, Panera is implementing an emergency PTO policy to help workers stay home if they are sick with COVID-19.
  • Pizza HutKFC, and Taco Bell’s policies provide paid time off for staff who are required to self-quarantine for the purpose of “keeping every customer experience safe” and prioritizing the wellbeing of their employees.
  • Domino’s is providing paid leave for employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 or are under self-quarantine, for the safety of their team members and customers.

Can More Paid Sick Leave Benefit Restaurants?

QSRs that have made updates to their polices actively express their urge to prioritize the health of both their guests and staff, and for good reason. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 60% of consumers are concerned about eating out, while 20% would “definitely avoid” doing so, citing concerns over safety.

As a result, QSRs must be proactive about their COVID-19 response and provide guests assurance that their safety is their top priority. They can do so by taking immediate action to bolster their guests’ confidence, such as introducing new policies. This will also ensure that guests who still refrain from eating out now will remember the brand’s level of action and leadership, and return when the pandemic eases.

Will Paid Sick Leave Be Here to Stay?

The outlook on the length of the pandemic is still unclear as the nation ramps up testing and other policies to curb the spread of COVID-19. But these paid sick leave policy changes come after a period in which restaurants were seeking for more ways to retain staff in face of turnover rates of over 100%, rising minimum wage, low unemployment rates, and the competitive gig economy. Improved paid sick leave policies may be a strong method of promoting the further professionalization of staff in the restaurant industry. Analysts also predict that it will be difficult to roll back these policy changes after COVID-19 is under control. In this case, more restaurants would follow suit with policy updates to remain competitive to high-performing staff and to improve their brand reputation.

Businesses that are proactive in updating their paid sick leave policies may be in the best position to earn more trust from guests in this time of crisis. It’s possible that sick leave benefits could remain even after the pandemic is over. In fact, it might be in companies’ best interest to keep them.

The question is, how can restaurants be positioned to handle these new paid sick leave policies without letting it negatively impact their operations? Technology can help. Contact us to learn how our platform can help you improve your QSR chain’s operational efficiency and staff productivity.