Late last week, news reports began surfacing that fast-casual chain Chipotle Mexican Grill will now have nurses confirm whether or not employees who call in sick are really unwell or not.
At a conference last week, Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol explained that the company has enlisted on-call nurses to call certain sick employees to validate if they are sick, or if said employee is dealing with an unfortunate hangover. If the nurse confirms that the employee is indeed sick, Chipotle will pay that worker for the day off in order for them to recover.
Here’s how the new policy is supposed to work, according to a statement from Kerry Bridges, Chipotle’s food safety vice president:
- Sick employee calls their manager to report illness and to request a day off work
- If said employee reports "serious" symptoms, a clinical nurse from Zero Hour Health will follow up with the employee to get a better understanding of the illness and its symptoms
- Note that not all “sick” employees will be required to speak with a nurse
- All Chipotle employees will receive sick pay, effective starting their first day of employment
"Chipotle ensures that all employees are healthy so that they can prepare real food and serve it to our customers,” Bridges said.
This new policy is part of Chipotle’s revamped food safety approach. The chain suffered multiple food safety mishaps linked to norovirus and Escherichia coli between 2015-2018.
July 2018 - An Ohio Chipotle store temporarily closed after hundreds complain of foodborne illness
July 2017 - Online reports of foodborne illness point to a Virginia-area Chipotle store
March 2016 - Sick employees prompt a Massachusetts store to temporarily close
December 2015 - CDC announces E. coli outbreak linked to Chipotle; Boston college student sickened
November 2015 - Chipotle stores in Oregon and Washington temporarily close after E. coli outbreak
In 2017, when a Virginia Chipotle was temporarily closed after reports of multiple customer illnesses, an investigation found that part of the cause was the presence of a sick employee who showed up to work instead of being allowed to take time off to get better.
“We have a very different food safety culture than we did 2 years ago,” said Niccol. "Nobody gets to the back of the restaurant without going through a wellness check."
Still, Niccol acknowledges that sick people will enter the restaurants, even if it’s just with the common cold.
"Even if we clean up after you, and we don't use a cleaner that kills that germ, it hangs around for the next customer.
"Even though our team member did nothing wrong—there was nothing wrong with our food—we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard to make sure that the dining room gets sanitized in a way that it hasn't been in the past," he said.
Chipotle’s answer to this problem is to apply a surface cleaning solution to all dining room tables—a solution that effectively kills norovirus.
Shortly after news of Chipotle's new policy broke, a spokesperson clarified that, for employees, the policy is "voluntary."