I won’t lie to you. I’m just back from a conference where an esteemed and respected colleague of mine argued against paid sick leave for restaurant workers.
First of all, my associate believes that the business model of a restaurant can’t sustain a paid sick leave policy. She’s not wrong. About 80% of all restaurants in America are independent units. It’s a family who owns a diner. A small company that owns two donut franchises. Sick leave is costly to those small operators. Margins are tight. Taxes are high. Many can’t afford to employ people and offer benefits.
(I say that if you can’t treat your workers fairly and generate revenue while calculating the real cost of labor, you don’t have a business model.)
She also argued that restaurant workers who are “tipped” earn more than minimum wage. Approximately $12 per hour, in fact. If you offer sick leave to those employees, you would only offer the guaranteed minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Sick people would still come to work because they would want to earn more money.
(So let’s continue to offer them nothing.)
Finally, she said that paid sick leave won’t prevent the spread of norovirus even though Chipotle is doubling-down on a new policy. You don’t know you have norovirus until you show the signs — nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. People show up at work and then come down with the infection. Paid sick leave, in my colleague’s estimation, is pointless and doesn’t address health and safety issues.
(Paid sick leave might not entirely prevent the spread of the norovirus, but it wouldn’t hurt. And what about workers with other infections? How about colds and the flu? Don’t they deserve time off?)
I discussed my visceral reaction with another colleague who said, “Laurie, you know how it is. You give someone paid sick leave, and they take a day off for other reasons. Then they don’t have any sick time when they’re ill.”
(And you think I’m cynical? Ha!)
I spend a lot of time around smart people who are trying to raise morale, boost employee engagement and improve employer branding initiatives. So much money is spent on attracting and retaining talented workers as if we all work for NASA and we’re trying to get that guy back from Mars.
In truth, we run restaurants. Or we own consulting firms. Or we have an advertising agency with two dozen employees. We just want good people to stick around for a little while.
So, hey, this is crazy. Do you want less turnover? Want a workforce who believes in your mission, vision, and values? Maybe don’t make people come to work when they have watery diarrhea.
And please don’t act like a sick day will bankrupt your company and decimate an entire industry. Because if paid sick leave threatens a business model, the business model deserves to be disrupted.