Chipotle co-workers joined a worker returning to work after city negotiated settlement to get her job back, plus $2,500 for illegal firing
NEW YORK—Workers from 10 Chipotle restaurants announced today that they are filing complaints with the city against their employer for forcing them to work sick, refusing to let them take sick days and/or for firing them for taking sick days.
Carlos Hernandez, who works at the 680 6th Avenue Chipotle, said he had diarrhea several times during his shifts in the past year.
“Every time this happened, I went to the on-duty manager, let them know I had diarrhea, and asked to go home,” he said. “Unfortunately, every time I did this, the manager merely told me to switch from the grill, where I normally work, to washing dishes or working the cash register.”
Hernandez’s complaint is among the new ones filed with the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) today. The workers are saying managers pressure them to work while sick and have sought to retaliate against them or even fire them for taking sick days. The workers say Chipotle refused to let them leave when they became ill at work, making it difficult for them to access sick leave, and forced to produce a doctor’s note in order to take sick leave, in violation of the law.
DCWP protects and enhances the daily economic lives of New Yorkers to create thriving communities.
New York City’s Earned Safe and Sick Time Act (Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law), gives covered workers the right to use sick leave to care for themselves or a family member and to seek legal and social services assistance or take other safety measures if the employee or a family member may be the victim of any act or threat of domestic violence or unwanted sexual contact, stalking, or human trafficking.
“We thank Commissioner Lorelei Salas and her department for investigating these cases and for enforcing city laws, including the Fair Workweek Law, which the department is also investigating fast food restaurants like Chipotle for violating,” 32BJ SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Larry Engelstein said. “Fast Food Workers deserve dignity, job security and a voice in the workplace. They deserve to have their employers obey applicable laws and respect their rights.”
The announcement took place outside the Chipotle Mexican Grill at 117 E 14th St by Union Square during a “walk-back” to the job for Luisa Mendez who was returning to work after the DCWP negotiated a settlement to get her job back, plus $2,500 for firing her.
“We will continue to be the voice of working New Yorkers and prosecute employers who do not comply with the law. We thank 32BJ SEIU for referring workers to us and urge any worker facing these problems at work to file a complaint with our office,” DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas said.
Mendez filed the complaint with DCWP with the help of SEIU 32BJ in January and the agency fast-tracked its investigation of her case. Mendez’s complaint alleges Chipotle fired her in retaliation for taking sick leave to care for her family. DCWP’s investigation found that Chipotle did not pay her for the leave that she used to take care of her family.
“Workers shouldn’t have to choose between caring for their family and keeping their job,” Mendez said. “Fortunately, I wasn’t in this alone. I came to the Department of Consumer and Worker Protections and told them what happened to me. Today I will be returning to work.”
These reports of workers being pressured to work sick or being retaliated against for using sick time shouldn’t be a surprise. Just last month NYC health inspectors found a crew member working while “ill with a disease transmissible by food or [an] exposed infected cut or burn on [their] hand.”
According to a food safety report recently released by 32BJ SEIU and the National Consumers League, “The Unsavory Side of ‘Food with Integrity’: How Chipotle management practices lead to worker abuses and may create food safety risks for consumers,” Chipotle managers violate its own companywide policy that prohibits crew members from working within three days of vomiting or experiencing “uncontrolled diarrhea” and within five days of receiving a diagnosis for specific infectious diseases such as norovirus. Workers told researchers for the report that supervisors have tried to dissuade them from taking sick leave when they are sick or retaliated against them for taking sick leave, both of which are violations of the New York City Paid Sick Leave Law.
The report also discovered that Chipotle uses an aggressive managerial pay bonus program that may incentivize managers to abuse workers and cut corners on food safety, raising the concern that company policy itself may need to change.
With 175,000 members in 11 states, including 12,000 in New Jersey and 85,000 in New York, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country