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March 2, 2020

It’s time to talk about paid sick time

Staying home sick is a luxury many can’t afford


As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to shape my beliefs around a new perspective: what is good for my neighbor tends to also be indirectly beneficial to those around them, including myself. It’s a mantra similar to the Piedmont Culinary Guild’s belief of “all ships rise,” spun out of the popular phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

I’ve been thinking about this often as the coronavirus continues to rapidly spread. The CDC’s recommendations are mostly common sense, such as wash your hands, disinfect often-used surfaces, and stay home when you’re sick. What’s common sense to some, however, may be a luxury for others.

Paid sick time isn’t common in the restaurant industry, nor in many other service-based industries. Employer-provided health insurance is rare, too. During public health crises such as the one we’re seeing right now, I’m afraid we’ll see the cost of demanding low prices when dining out.

We tend to value our restaurant experiences by what we tangibly get: what’s on our plate, what we’re drinking. We see chicken, vegetables, and a sauce and think, “That would have cost me less than $10 to make at home.” We’re forgetting, as documentary series OrderFire so well puts it, the human ingredient.

How much do we value a chef’s creativity? The convenience of not having to prepare a meal ourselves? The dishwasher who washes everything after we eat? The crew that comes in each night to remove every crumb and keep the restaurant clean? The beverage director who painstakingly selects every bottle on the wine list?

And, lately, how much do we value knowing a restaurant employee can choose to stay home when they’re sick without having to forgo wages their family depends on?

If we considered all of that added value in dollar amounts on a menu, perhaps restaurants could make enough money to turn paid sick leave into an industry standard. That would certainly be a blessing for restaurant staff, and good for the rest of us, too — especially when our eyes are all glued to the latest news of a fast-traveling illness.

All ships rise. —Kristen Wile


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