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Chipotle Requires a 'Wellness Check' to Prove Sick Workers Aren't Just Hungover

Imagine being sent a health professional to prove that you're not just sleeping off last night's White Claws.

by Jelisa Castrodale
Dec 5 2019, 9:54pm

Photo: Getty Images

At the beginning of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the semi-pro school skipper shares his advice for anyone who wants to fake a sick day, suggesting that "non-specific symptoms" are better than giving any real details. "A lot of people will tell you to go for a phony fever, but if you got a nervous mother, you could wind up in a doctor's office," he says. "You fake a stomach cramp, when you're bent over wailing, you lick your palms. It's childish and stupid, but then, so is high school."

Bruh, it doesn't get any less childish or stupid when you have to start working, especially when your employer sends you to a nurse to prove that you're not just sleeping off last night's White Claws. That's the deal at Chipotle now, according to recent comments from the chain's CEO.

"We have nurses on call, so that if you say, 'Hey, I've been sick,' you get the call into the nurse," Brian Niccol said at a conference on Wednesday. "The nurse validates that it's not a hangover—you're really sick—and then we pay for the day off to get healthy again."

Niccol said that these "wellness checks" are essential to keeping staff and customers healthy—and that nobody gets into the back of the restaurant without one. "We have a very different food-safety culture than we did two years ago, OK?" he said, referencing the E. coli, salmonella and norovirus outbreaks that have turned "eating Chipotle" into an unfortunate euphemism for intestinal distress.

Those incidents have forced the company to "hold ourselves to a higher standard" than other restaurants, when it comes to both ensuring that employees are well enough to work, and to keeping the dining areas clean and ultra-sanitized. According to Niccol, the restaurants use a cleaning product on the dining tables that can kill norovirus.

As CNBC previously reported, a 2017 outbreak of norovirus in Virginia was blamed on poor sick-policy enforcement at the affected stores. "We conducted a thorough investigation, and it revealed that our leadership there didn’t strictly adhere to our company protocols,” then-CEO Steve Ells admitted at the time.

After those well-publicized food safety incidents, Chipotle put an employee wellness check in place, which requires every worker to answer a number of screening questions to ensure that they are healthy enough to handle other people's food. Any worker who reports having symptoms of illness is sent home to recover. (Chipotle takes it all seriously, too: a now-former employee wrote on Reddit that she was fired because she forgot to sign her restaurant's wellness check book.)

Chipotle does offer paid sick leave for its employees, and it's probably in everyone's best interest if unwell workers feel like they can take advantage of that benefit... and if their managers don't try to pressure them into doing otherwise.

We've heard that licking your palms can help. Just FYI.

UPDATE 12/6/19: Chipotle provided the following statement to VICE:

“Chipotle ensures that all employees are healthy so that they can prepare real food and serve it to our customers. When an employee reports serious symptoms to their manager, the clinical nurse team at Zero Hour Health will follow up with those employees to understand their illness. 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.” –Kerry Bridges, Vice President of Food Safety

Tagged:
Fast Food
chipotle
food safety
sick leave
sick policy