UPDATE: Free breadsticks now come with paid sick leave

Yesterday's Popular Information was about Darden, which operates Olive Garden and numerous other restaurant brands across the United States. In total, Darden employs more than 170,000 restaurant employees across 1779 locations. The newsletter focused on the fact that, except where required by law, none of Darden's restaurant employees received paid sick leave. 

I spoke to numerous current and former Darden employees who shared horror stories about restaurant workers coming in sick because they couldn't afford to miss a shift. The issue had new urgency in light of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. 

About 10 hours after the piece published, Darden announced it would provide paid sick leave to all its hourly restaurant employees. It was a dramatic change for a company that, as recently as last month, was lobbying against paid sick leave legislation. 

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Darden did not respond to Popular Information's questions last week. But on Monday afternoon, I received a phone call from Rich Jeffers, Darden's Senior Director for Communications. Jeffers let me know about the new policy and sent along the details. 

Effective today, Darden is providing Paid Sick Leave for every one of our hourly team members who are not covered by a policy today.

Sick leave will accrue at a rate of one (1) hour for every 30 hours worked.

Current team members have been granted a starting balance based on their most recent 26 weeks of work and can use this benefit immediately.

New team members will begin accruing sick leave upon hire and may use it after 90 days of employment.

Team members can carry over up to 40 hours each year with a maximum balance of 60 hours.

Pay rate will be based on the team member’s 13-week average.

This doesn't solve all the problems for employees at Darden. And I'll be watching closely to see how this policy is implemented. But, for the 170,000 people who work at Olive Garden and other Darden restaurants, it's a step in the right direction. 

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Darden's decision also puts pressure on other companies to follow suit. The decision created national news. Here is how Bloomberg covered the story:

Darden Restaurants Inc., the operator of Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and other restaurants, announced Monday that the company is providing paid sick leave to all hourly workers who are not currently covered by a policy.

...While a lack of paid sick leave is common in the restaurant industry, Darden was singled out today by the newsletter Popular Information, which focuses on politics. The publication flagged that a lack of paid sick leave could put employees in the difficult position of being unable to meet expenses -- and therefore prompt them to work through sickness and contribute to the virus’s spread.

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