Chipotle asks sick employees to call the nurse

Discussion
Photo: Chipotle Mexican Grill
Dec 10, 2019
Tom Ryan

At Chipotle Mexican Grill, workers get paid to take the day off if they’re sick, but they’re often asked to check in with a nurse to validate their condition.

Speaking last week at Barclays’ investor conference in New York, Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said the fast-casual chain updated its sick policy as part of a broad elevation of its “food safety culture” over the last two years, following a number of high-profile food safety incidents. Nurses are now on call for sick employees.

Mr. Niccol said, “If you say, ‘Hey, I’ve been sick,’ you get to call into the nurse. The nurse validates that you don’t have a hangover — you’re really sick — and then we pay for the day off to get healthy again.” 

He also said employees can no longer enter the back of the restaurant without passing a “wellness check.”

Kerry Bridges, VP of food safety at Chipotle, later told TODAY that the sick policy isn’t intended to penalize employees for playing hooky, but to make sure they’re healthy enough to work.

“When an employee reports certain symptoms to their manager, the clinical nurse team at Zero Hour Health will follow up with those employees to understand their illness,” said Ms. Bridges. “Not all ill employees talk to a nurse, but all Chipotle employees receive paid sick leave from their first day of employment to use when they are not feeling well.” 

The updated sick-day policy followed an incident at a Virginia location in July 2017 in which a sick employee was blamed for a norovirus outbreak that caused as many as 135 patrons  to become ill. That incident received wide media coverage because it followed an E. coli outbreak and a separate norovirus incident at a Boston location in 2015.

Mr. Niccol said “trust scores” have been steadily improving because Chipotle has adopted a number of other food safety and restaurant sanitization measures, avoided any major incidents since July 2018, and changed its messaging to promote “the good things that we do as opposed to what are the wrong things that others do.” 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does having on-call nurses sound like a good investment for most restaurants as well as food retailers? What advice would you have about calling-in-sick policies and discouraging workers from coming to work when they are ill?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Not every organization will have the wherewithal to implement on-call nurses but, for those who can, this is a thoughtful and prudent approach."
"To make this work as intended, Chipotle should address this well-intended new policy from the operational side too. It probably begins with a state-of-the art mobile app."
"I love the employee program, it’s certainly a nice perk that is safety driven...Employees will not abuse it … right?"

Join the Discussion!

8 Comments on "Chipotle asks sick employees to call the nurse"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Not every organization will have the wherewithal to implement on-call nurses but, for those who can, this is a thoughtful and prudent approach. Ensuring the health of workers is important in any context, but it’s significantly more important when workers can impact the health of customers — like in quick service restaurant environments. Unfortunately there are no easy ways to deal with employees who call in sick, and ultimately it’s up to the employee. If he/she doesn’t disclosure that they’re sick, there’s no way for the employer to really know.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Given the disastrous implications of the various food scares at Chipotle, it makes sense to ensure employees are well and healthy enough to work in food preparation areas. It is good to see the company taking hygiene and food safety more seriously.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Chipotle needed to build back their customers’ trust. They are now layering another sense of confidence on top of their efforts to get as far away from the health incident that happened a little over two years ago. It’s also a nice perk for the workers. Typically hourly workers are only paid when they are working. If they are legitimately sick, this is a great way to confirm that, get paid and maybe have time to see the doctor, if needed.

Heidi Sax
BrainTrust

I imagine the wellness checks at the door (and, I hope, throughout the shift) will have the greatest impact on food safety at Chipotle. Calls with a nurse seem like a PR move, but can’t hurt, especially for food service providers.

I AM perplexed about the hangover example given by Mr. Niccol (if food safety is the primary concern). However, I suppose the mere offering of paid sick days will be enough to keep morale high among employees. Offering paid sick days is the best way for retailers to ensure employees aren’t coming to work sick.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I love the employee program, it’s certainly a nice perk that is safety driven. There will be a lot of pressure on the nurse to approve a leave instead of sending the associate back — and risking the chance of having another outbreak. Employees will not abuse it … right? But then again, in the name of safety, they are doing everything they can do to get the tarnish off.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

This certainly is a welcome change in mindset from the historical employer-employee relationship.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Chipotle’s nurse-on-call benefit for employees is a commendable idea. The discussion so far skirts a core issue, however:
A prime reason retail and fast-food organizations tend to tacitly discourage sick-outs has to do with shift management. It’s hella hard for a store manager to arrange last-minute coverage for a staffer who calls in sick.
To make this work as intended, Chipotle should address this well-intended new policy from the operational side too. It probably begins with a state-of-the art mobile app. An offer of bonus pay or OT to associates who cover for colleagues at the last minute would help too.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

A great idea to help ensure Chipotle is meeting food safety standards. As Mark stated, not everyone will have the financial ability to implement but given the impact a food safety incident can have on a business, the investment is well worth it. The program only works if the company allows sick days from day one and management does not pressure employees to come in because they are or might be short handed.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Not every organization will have the wherewithal to implement on-call nurses but, for those who can, this is a thoughtful and prudent approach."
"To make this work as intended, Chipotle should address this well-intended new policy from the operational side too. It probably begins with a state-of-the art mobile app."
"I love the employee program, it’s certainly a nice perk that is safety driven...Employees will not abuse it … right?"

Take Our Instant Poll

Whether expressly or implicitly, do most retailers or restaurants encourage or discourage employees from working while sick?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...