Everyday Meals

Fast Food Chains Are Taking Steps to Send Sick Workers Home


Even amid a pandemic, people still need to eat. That might as well be the mantra which explains why fast food chains have almost invariably stayed open (for takeout and delivery). While it’s great for hungry folks trapped at home, the past week has seen increased criticism of certain “essential” businesses who have put their frontline employees in harm’s way without enough in the way of pay raises to offset the risk or protections to keep them healthy.

Subsequently, multiple large-scale fast food chains have introduced precautionary measures designed to minimize the workplace transmission of COVID-19. That essentially means making sure that every employee is healthy at the start of every shift, and sending those who could potentially spread the virus home to quarantine. So far, McDonald’s and Restaurant Brands International, which owns Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Horton’s, have implemented such procedures.

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These precautions have taken two different forms. At McDonald’s (including franchisee-owned locations), managers will ask employees a series of questions as a “precautionary” measure, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. Those questions include things like “are you showing symptoms associated with COVID-19? Have you had close contact in the past 14 days with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19?”

Naturally, anyone who answered “yes” to that question will be sent home. Nation’s Restaurant News says that a quarantined employee won’t be allowed to come back to work until they’ve received authorization from a medical professional. That sounds great on paper, but such authorization could frankly be hard to come by given how many medical professionals are currently focused on more pressing life-or-death COVID-19 cases.

The issue with the McDonald’s approach is that its paid sick leave policies might incentivize workers to lie in order to stay on the job. While employees of corporate-owned McDonald’s stores will receive 14 days of paid sick leave, more than 90 percent of its worldwide locations are owned by franchisees. McDonald’s can recommend that franchisees institute paid sick leave policies, but they are not required to implement such a policy. As a company with more than 500 employees, McDonald’s is furthermore exempt from the paid sick leave mandate included in the recently-passed $2 trillion stimulus bill.

Meanwhile Restaurant Brands International is looking for slightly more empirical evidence that their employees should be sent home. According to a press release, the company will soon issue “15,000 infrared thermometers to all Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes restaurants to confirm that team members are healthy as they arrive for shifts.” Employees of “corporate-owned” Burger King and Popeyes restaurants who need to quarantine will be given 14 days of paid sick leave, while Tim Hortons employees in Canada will be given the same.

This isn’t the first time infrared thermometers have been used to perform COVID-19 temperature checks at restaurants. Back before a nationwide pandemic took hold, LA restaurant Sichuan Impression instituted temperature checks before seating its customers, exemplifying an early attempt to slow the spread.

While such measures by employers could be construed as an invasion of privacy under normal circumstances, helping both employees and customers feel a bit safer is the name of the game. But with more than 100 McDonald’s workers across three cities walking off the job in protest of unsafe conditions earlier this week (following similar strikes by Instacart and Whole Foods workers), one has to wonder whether their plan to simply ask questions will actually make for a healthier workplace or simply limit corporate liability if something goes wrong. Only time will tell. 


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