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McDonald’s pledges to pay hourly workers in coronavirus quarantine

As COVID-19 becomes a pandemic, the burger giant has pledged to pay employees at company stores who are required to stay home.
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Photograph by Jonathan Maze

McDonald’s on Tuesday pledged to pay hourly workers at corporate stores who are asked to be in quarantine for 14 days amid mounting concern about the financial state of low-wage workers asked to stay home.

The move does not cover stores owned by the chain’s franchisees, who operate 95% of the company’s nearly 14,000 U.S. locations.

“The health and well-being of our people, our customers and our communities is our highest priority and drives our decision making,” the company said in an emailed statement. “As we proactively monitor the impact of the coronavirus, we are continuously evaluating our policies to provide flexibility and reasonable accommodations. Our people are the heart and soul of the McDonald’s family and, of course, we will support them through these unique circumstances.”

The move came on a day when Fight for $15, the labor-backed group that has been putting pressure on McDonald’s to increase pay and allow unions, said the company needed to do more to provide paid sick leave.

But it also comes amid mounting concern for low-wage workers who may feel pressure to come to work even while sick at a time when health and government authorities are urging less movement to combat the spread of COVID-19.

At the same time, an employee found to be infected could result in the closure of a local restaurant for potentially days at a time.

Olive Garden owner Darden Restaurants on Monday announced that it would provide paid sick leave for all hourly employees.

McDonald’s said that its corporate locations and many of its franchisees have policies in place to offer paid time off. Crew members at company stores can earn up to five days of paid time off a year.

McDonald’s last week canceled its worldwide convention and created a team to develop contingency plans in the U.S. It also told franchisees to increase the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing high-touch areas of their restaurants to prevent the virus’s spread.

The company has also increased the supply of hand sanitizer dispensers in the entrances and lobbies for customer use.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The virus has infected more than 120,000 people worldwide, with 4,000 deaths. More than 1,000 Americans have been confirmed to have been infected, according to the New York Times, a number that has more than doubled in recent days. At the beginning of March only 70 Americans had the virus.

There is also mounting concern about the impact of the virus, and steps being taken to minimize its impact of the pandemic on the economy overall and on restaurants specifically.

Countrywide, there remains little indication that restaurants are seeing less traffic from fear of the coronavirus. But in places like the Seattle area, San Francisco Bay area and New York City, which have all been hit hard by the epidemic, there are growing reports of empty restaurants and independents even closing their doors because of lost business.

Chris O’Cull, an analyst with Stifel, said in a note on Wednesday that there are reports of staffing issues at restaurants in some hard-hit areas as employees opt to stay home and not risk exposure.

Stock prices, meanwhile, fell nearly 5% through early afternoon trading on Wednesday, wiping out much of the gains that came Tuesday, a day after stocks fell broadly. Investors worried about the impact of the coronavirus on dining out hammered casual dining chains as Dave & Buster’s (down 19%, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (down 18%), Brinker International (down 17%), Texas Roadhouse (down 12%), Darden Restaurants (down 12%) and Dine Brands Global (down 13%) were hit hard.

So, too, were chains predominantly in areas hit hard by the coronavirus: Jack in the Box (down 16%), Del Taco (down 10%) and Shake Shack (down 12%).

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include additional information on the coronavirus’s spread.

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