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McDonald’s and Starbucks are taking more steps to protect workers' health

Starbucks is exploring the use of masks, while McDonald’s is taking more aggressive steps to ensure workers exposed to the coronavirus stay home.
Photograph by Jonathan Maze

As concern mounts over the risks restaurant employees are taking by working during the coronavirus shutdown, fast-food giants McDonald’s and Starbucks on Wednesday announced additional steps designed to keep them from spreading the virus.

Starbucks said it is “exploring the possibility of making non-medical grade masks” available for its employees.

The Seattle-based coffee giant is also sending thermometers to its stores “in the event those partners choose to use them.” Employees could monitor their own temperature “as an added reassurance before they start their shift.”

The company made the announcement in a letter to its employees, saying that closures and temporary benefits, such as catastrophe pay, would be extended until May 3.

Rossann Williams, president of Starbucks’ U.S. company-operated business, said the company’s efforts “meets, and in many cases even exceeds” recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“But we know the science on COVID-19 and local mandates are constantly shifting, and rather than waiting for clarity, we want to continue to take additional steps now to ensure the health and safety of our partners.”

McDonald’s, meanwhile, has established new guidelines for employees at company- and franchisee-owned restaurants before they start their shifts.

Employees will be asked four questions: whether they are showing COVID-19 symptoms, whether they have been diagnosed with the virus, whether they have been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed in the previous 14 days, and whether they have been told they should self-quarantine.

Employees who answer yes to any of the questions are sent home and cannot return to work until they have been given the go-ahead by a “medical professional.” The company said it is paying workers at corporate stores two weeks of paid leave.

McDonald’s also said that “employees at a large percentage of franchised restaurants will receive emergency paid leave through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”

That the company’s franchisees are taking the same steps is important, as they operate 95% of the chain’s nearly 14,000 U.S. locations.

McDonald’s has closed dine-in sections and play areas, increased cleaning, made sanitizer available and has adopted social distancing guidelines.

“Implementing these extra precautionary measures is another way employees can feel good about where they work,” Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s USA, said in a statement.

Restaurant workers have been issuing walkouts and taking other steps to put pressure on their employers over the availability of protective gear as they work during shutdowns over the coronavirus.

Restaurant takeout and delivery are considered essential businesses by states that have taken steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

As this concern mounts, restaurant companies have taken more aggressive steps to demonstrate that they are working to ensure their workers are not sick. The parent company of Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, for instance, is sending infrared thermometers to its restaurants so employees can have their temperatures taken before they work.

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