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Chipotle under pressure in New York over coronavirus sick leave

By Hilary Russ
The logo of Chipotle Mexican Grill is seen at the Chipotle Next Kitchen in Manhattan

By Hilary Russ

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Less than two months after settling with New York City regulators over paid sick leave, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc is under pressure for its policies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

During a press call on Thursday, the chair of the city council's health committee joined Chipotle employees and the union organizing them, SEIU 32BJ, to voice concern that the fast-casual chain's emergency pay policies were not being properly implemented.

"We need Chipotle to honor this," City Councilman Mark Levine, who chairs the city's Committee on Health, said of paid sick leave.

Chipotle, which has 83,000 employees nationwide, sent internal notes to employees, held calls with general managers, posted videos and issued emails notifying them of special sick leave and other coronavirus polices, spokeswoman Erin Wolford said in an email.

"Chipotle's goal is to keep its employees safe and healthy and to keep our communities fed," she said. "Employees across the country who have called our [nurse hotline] with symptoms, or reported they are being tested, or reported they have come into close contact with someone with COVID-19 are being paid while they are excluded from our restaurants."

Some restaurants have clashed with state and local governments over sick leave policies since well before the coronavirus crisis brought them into even sharper focus.

Although New York City and several other cities and states require private employers to provide the benefit, three-fourths of U.S. food service workers do not get it, and major chains, including Dunkin' Brands Group Inc and Wendy's Co, offer none, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In a settlement announced Feb. 26, New York City required Chipotle to rehire a worker who was fired when she tried to claim sick leave, and to provide $2,500 in restitution. The city's investigation of Chipotle continues.

The company normally offers 3 days of annual paid sick leave.

Alexchayanne Diaz-Larui, 41, called out sick last week with a fever of 101 degrees, he said during the press call.

Once he finally got through to Chipotle's backlogged nurse hotline, he was told to stay home for 7 days.

Human resources told him he needed a positive coronavirus test to claim the special sick leave - pay equal to his upcoming 2-week schedule or average hours worked, whichever is greater - despite a well-publicized shortage of test kits.

"I was forced to go back to work not knowing if I have it or not," he said. "I was given the runaround."


(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Dan Grebler)