“From now on, if you call, you might as well get out and look for another job,” read the message to workers at an Overland Park location, according to a local news report from KCTV5. “We no longer tolerate ANY excuse to quit.”
The manager, who was not named, demanded that staff provide evidence of whatever reason they had for not making the shift. “If you are sick, you must come and prove it to us. If your dog died, you must bring him in and prove it to us. If it’s a “family emergency” and you can’t say, too bad. Go to work somewhere else.”
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A spokeswoman for Darden restaurants, which owns Olive Garden, confirmed to The Washington Post that the letter had been sent to employees and said the restaurant fired the manager after learning about it.
“We strive to provide a caring and respectful work environment for our team members. This message is not aligned with our company values,” the company said in a statement. “We have parted ways with this manager.”
While the Olive Garden manager’s approach may have been unreasonable and potentially unsafe (one point of calling in sick is that you don’t connect with co-workers, right?), many managers can share the frustration of being short-staffed. A stew of illnesses this winter, including RSV, covid, flu and colds, is keeping many workers at home. Parents, who are also faced with a shortage of childcare, are particularly strained. More than 100,000 people in the United States missed work last month because of problems with their childcare, the highest number ever, even during the worst of the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And restaurants, which already have a shortage of labour, can be hit harder by such absences.
Teofilo Reyes, program manager for the labor group Restaurant Opportunities Center, says pressure from managers to limit sick days is widespread — though not as overtly expressed as it was in the case of Olive Garden. “It’s all too common,” he said. “And that was true even during the pandemic.” The group’s research has shown that many workers call in sick to work, with many citing fear of losing income – and retaliation from employers.