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Chipotle pays nurses to distinguish hangover from contagious illness

Daniella Genovese

If you called out sick at Chipotle, the burrito chain wants to know whether it was a hangover or something contagious.

It has nurses on call who can distinguish between the two. While it's a move that might faze even '80s film truant Ferris Bueller himself, it's intended not to penalize workers for a long night out but to make sure they're not returning to work with an illness that could be passed on to customers.

The system is part of a heightened emphasis on food safety at the Newport Beach, California-based company after health scares that tarnished the brand and hurt profits.

"There’s a very different food safety culture than we had two years ago," Brian Niccol, the former Taco Bell chief who was appointed Chipotle CEO in February 2018, said at a Barclays conference in New York this week. "Nobody gets into the back of the restaurant without going through a wellness check."

The business also has a paid sick-leave policy, "where if you're sick, you don't work and we will pay you for a sick day," he said. "We have nurses on call so that if you say, 'Hey, I’ve been sick,' you get called into the nurse, the nurse validates that it wasn’t just a hangover, you really were sick, and then we pay for a day off to get healthy again.”

HOW MUCH HANGOVERS COST EMPLOYERS

Ensuring employees are well keeps them from passing infections along to customers, said Kerry Bridges, the company's vice president of food safety, "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."

Not all sick employees talk with a nurse, Bridges said, but all workers are given paid sick leave starting on their first day with the company.

2,600 CHIPOTLE EMPLOYEES GETTING BIG BONUS

In the fall of 2015, Chipotle lost money and customers after an outbreak of E. coli infections linked to the restaurant prompted the temporary closing of more than 40 stores in the Pacific Northwest. The Centers for Disease and Prevention later reported that 55 people across 11 states had been affected.

In 2017, the restaurant retrained its kitchen staff and initiated a zero-tolerance policy for violators after discovering a sick employee caused a norovirus outbreak at a Virginia location, Reuters reported.

Chipotle said Wednesday that even if its employees aren’t at fault, the company must hold itself to a "higher standard."

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For instance, Chipotle restaurants use a cleaner that actually kills norovirus on its tables since customers could just as easily pick up the bug from a sick patron.

"We've changed our tune, we've changed our culture and as a result, our customers are giving us more trust," Niccol said.

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