Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse parent Darden Restaurants said Tuesday that hourly employees at company-run stores will be paid to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
CEO Gene Lee said in a letter Tuesday that employees will receive two hours of pay for each dose, the outlet reported. The rate will be based on the workers’ earnings, including tips, in the past 13 weeks. The max rate is $20 per hour.
Darden also owns Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, Yard House, Bahama Breeze, and Eddie V’s. The company operated a combined 1,818 locations as of November 29.
A Darden spokesman told the newspaper that the company is incentivizing because it didn’t want workers to use paid sick leave. Darden rolled out the sick leave program last March around the time the pandemic first started. Workers gain one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The rate is based on the employee’s 13-week average.
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“We recognize getting vaccinated is a personal decision that you alone can make,” Lee said in the letter. “While we will not require hourly team members to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, we strongly encourage you to consider getting vaccinated.”
To receive the pay, employees will have to provide proof of vaccination to their managers. It’s expected that most of the vaccinations will occur outside of shifts. Lee noted in the letter that the company will provide scheduling flexibility for restaurant managers to get vaccinated, as well.
It’s unclear when the vaccine will become available for restaurant employees. As of Monday morning, 22.7 million doses of vaccine have been administered and 41.4 million have been distributed. Restaurant workers are in Phase 1c, which comes after frontline workers, teachers, grocery store workers, first responders, and people over 75 years old. The CDC estimated that more than 50 million are in Phase 1a and 1b. President Joe Biden has promised 100 million vaccinations in 100 days, and said the rate could reach 1.5 million doses per day. Biden believes the country can reach herd immunity by the summer.
Darden is the first major restaurant company to incentivize workers to get vaccinated. Chipotle and Yum! Brands, owner of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC, told CNBC they won’t mandate vaccinations. The outlet also reported that Starbucks, which is helping with the vaccine rollout in Washington State, has not made a decision on mandating vaccines for employees and customers. Domino’s said it has a team studying the issue. Other large brands like McDonald’s, Papa John’s, and Burger King parent Restaurant Business International haven’t provided a public stance.