restaurant’s ridiculous sick leave policy

A reader writes:

I work at a small family-owned/operated restaurant. It’s managed by the owners, who seem to have some really strange rules.

If we are sick, it is our responsibility to find someone to cover our shift. If we cannot find someone to cover our shift, we are to a) show up to work or b) provide a doctor’s note. About 6 months ago, we had to sign a waiver stating that if we have a fever, diarrhea, and or vomiting, we are NOT to come to work.

This past week, we had a girl who was sick who called everyone who had the day off to cover for her, but nobody could do it. So, they have now posted a memo telling us that if we are sick and can’t find anyone to cover our shift, we are to provide the boss with the names of everyone we called and the reason given for not being able to cover their shift. As far as I am concerned, it’s my day off and it’s nobody’s business what I am doing, nor do I feel obligated to provide anyone with an explanation as to why I can’t cover them on my day off. What can we as employees do about this? (Besides quit, I know that.) Is it just me, or is that just asking WAY too much out of your employees?

No, it’s not just you. The people behind this rule are insane. And short-sighted and jerks.

I know that a lot of restaurants put the responsibility of finding someone to cover an already-scheduled shift on the employee. I think it’s lame and it should be the manager’s responsibility to get the shifts covered. People get sick. It happens. It’s unfair and unkind to make a vomiting employee call all over town to try to get someone to cover for her.

I know that the reason for this type of policy is that they don’t want people calling in sick when they really aren’t, so they want to create a high bar to faking it — but there are far better ways to handle that, through this little thing called good management: If someone is calling in sick at the last minute enough times that it’s passed a reasonable point, the manger should handle it as a performance problem, explaining that they can’t keep scheduling the person for shifts if they don’t get more reliable. Instead, their current policy screams “We don’t want to bother with having to be managers.”

As for what you can do about it: Well, you can complain to the management. You’ll have better luck if you do it in a group with other employees. You can also stop answering your phone on your days off if you think it might be a shift request. But ultimately, a manager who comes up with a policy like this is going to come up with plenty of other ways to screw you — so I’d walk, and tell them why.

{ 6 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    That's not just a short-sighted rule, it's unhygenic too if the server can't find someone to cover their shift. I wouldn't want a server with a cold to be anywhere my food if they're ill and no-one can cover (off-duty staff do have lives) and I'm pretty sure the server wouldn't want to have to work if they're ill either. I've worked in places where you're not allowed to step foot in the place within 36 hours of *recovering* from a stomach bug, for example, because of the risk of contamination. It's an extremely foolish rule.

  2. Ashley Jean*

    I've worked at several restaurants and many have had this policy. It's ridiculous! However at my last serving job, the manager would over-schedule for the busy shifts (so there would usually be 2 "extras". And nobody would know beforehand if they were going to be the extra). It worked out wonderfully because often times someone would have a test to study for, or maybe someone wasn't feeling well. There always seems to be a server or two who'd rather not be there. So the extras could decide if they want to cover for these people or go home. On the slower nights, it's not a big deal if someone calls out, because others can just pick up the extra tables. There was always great coverage and you had to worry a lot less about getting someone to cover your shift. Maybe make this suggestion to your boss?

  3. Anonymous*

    From the experience, those type of managers usually come from the family type businesses and they treat their family and employees next to slaves. There's no HR, there aren't no policies. All they care is profit. And another reasons why they often have their own business is because they can't work for anyone else, so they prefer that others work for them. It's all a matter of sick ego and upbringing that they often bring from their native countries.
    So… yes, get out of there if you can but not too fast. You still would need good references for the next employer and it might be a tricky one to get from management like this. I used to do reference checks and restaurant managers of family type are by far – the worst! Better work in a merchandise with a well-established reputation even the wages might be lower.

  4. Anonymous*

    "It's all a matter of sick ego and upbringing that they often bring from their native countries."

    I know! My worst waitressing job ever was working for this American. I dunno what they teach them in that country.

  5. Kelly O*

    It's not just restaurants either – I've worked in a couple of retail environments where you were responsible for finding someone to cover your shift if you were sick.

    This was my favorite –
    1. Call the manager to tell him/her you were sick and could not come in.
    2. Call anyone not already on the schedule for the day to see if they could fill in for you.
    3. If you couldn't find someone not already on the schedule, call the store to see if someone would be willing to stay and cover your shift.
    4. When you do find someone, both of you have to call the manager to let him/her know of the change.
    5. You have to provide documentation of your above process, including the times you called, when you return to work.

  6. anonymous*

    I work for a daycare and they require the same as above. And we are required to show up even if we are sick. Very hygienic when working with young children.

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