paid sick leave

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.


  1. Laurie – I agree. If you want people to help grow your business, you must be willing to help them; and it goes farther than a job and pay check. Most people will not take advantage of the benefit; but if a small business owner has someone who does, then that needs to be dealt with.

  2. Unlimited sick leave may be smarter than unlimited vacation. ” stay home if you are sick but bring a note”.

    Paid leave. Stable work schedules. Living wage. All sound good, hard to deliver for some business owners.

    Walmart is about to spend billions to raise wages by 2%. How much would paid leave cost them to implement ( and benefit them, frankly?)

    From the Walk Street Journal-
    “Wal-Mart is in the costly process of trying to improve its 4,600 U.S. stores while also investing heavily to boost e-commerce sales. It has said the wage boost—including the 2% increase for those who earn more than the minimum wage—would cost about $2.7 billion over fiscal years 2016 and 2017, driving down next fiscal year’s profit by as much as 12%. Last week, in a rare retreat, Wal-Mart said it would close 154 stores in the U.S. and another 115 globally, as it weeds out weaker-performing locations.

    On Wednesday, the company’s shares fell 2.8% to $60.84, amid a broad market rout. Over the past 12 months, the shares have fallen 30%.

    Wal-Mart’s move to broaden its pay increase shows the challenge employers have in using wages to lure workers as unemployment rates decline. When the retailer raised its minimum wage last April to $9 an hour, some long-term workers objected to being paid nearly the same as a new hires with less experience, said Judith McKenna, Wal-Mart’s U.S. chief operating officer. This time Wal-Mart wanted all employees to benefit at once and to clearly communicate the change, she said.”

    • The good old doctor’s note requirement. The technique that prevents 90% of the valid sick days from being used.

      It is not worth time, hassle or cost unless someone is going to be out for numerous days.

      • Well, since I was suggesting “unlimited” sick leave be available as opposed to unlimited vacation…it’s probably reasonable to have some kind of conformation system in place, but you could just operate on” take what you need”,

        The whole thing is really not very likely to ever happen as I suggested.

  3. I love this, Laurie. I think about the people who come to work sick, — and some that have paid sick time, — but who cannot take care of themselves because their employer has added workload on top of workload and not adjusted headcount. People don’t get well, get sicker or get sick more frequently, and the employer still drives the expectation for the work of three people from one person.

  4. In Australia we are very lucky to have legislated benefits – ie we have to offer annual, sick and long service leave. Yes, it is expensive at times, but the business models are built to cover those costs of employing people.
    We have some rules around taking sick leave, with appropriate discipline measures if people don’t follow the rules. Mostly it works.
    What it does allow us to do, is make sure people stay home if they are ill, or have time off if they have a medical emergency.
    Happy Australia Day (January 26th).

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