Imagine waking and feeling awful and calling in sick.
And then a nurse comes on the line to decide if you're sick … or maybe just hung over.
In 2015, two separate E. coli outbreaks were linked to Chipotle: In one outbreak, 55 people in 11 states were infected by foodborne illness. In the second, five people from three states were infected.
Since then, Chipotle has put considerable effort into improving its food safety practices.
"We have a very different food safety culture than we did two years ago," says CEO Brian Niccol. "No one comes to the back of the restaurant without going through a wellness check."
One of these initiatives involves having a nurse call staff who call in sick.
"We have nurses on the phone, so if you say, 'Hey, I've been sick,' you get the call to the nurse," says Niccol. "The nurse validates that there is no hangover – (that) you are really sick – and then we pay for the day off to recover."
It sounds good on the surface. Almost everyone has called in sick at least once when they were not actually sick. (I have, but if it helps, I was an hourly employee who was not eligible for sick pay.)
Paid sick days are a big advantage. It is fantastic to pay employees while they are healthy.
But having someone "validate" that you're sick and not getting hung up – through a phone call, no less – is a terrible idea:
- The phone call shows an obvious lack of confidence.
- The phone call can't really confirm an illness. Armed with a quick Google search, anyone can list the right symptoms: Fever, headaches, occasional chills, a few aching joints … boom. I'm sick."
- The telephone conversation has nothing to do with what Chipotle claims is its primary purpose: to make sure that employees are good enough to be at work and that they do not want to endanger customers, other employees, etc.
Think of it that way, and the whole thing "we pay a sick day if you're really sick" sounds more than a little insulting.
As the company now clearly realizes: A spokesman later said it was a voluntary service, not one that was forced to intercept employees. "You don't have to call a nurse if you're taking a day off."
Plus, "All employees who quit sick for some reason get paid free."
But if that is the case, why discuss the whole "hangover" question? Offer to let me talk to a nurse when I'm sick? It's great.
Did the nurse decide if I would be hung over? Ick.
So it is possible Niccol mistake poke. Maybe the process is really designed just to benefit the employees. (But it makes you wonder where "hangover" came from.)
If I were a Chipotle employee, I wouldn't mind going through a quick "wellness" check when I get to work. It makes sense for a company that says it takes security seriously. (I've been asked to take Breathalyzer tests before entering production areas; I understand the intent and have never been offended.)
But if anyone needs to find out if I'm really sick? I would not appreciate that.
Plus there is a waste of time that should be spent elsewhere. Trying to validate if an employee is really sick – especially when the funds you choose make it nearly impossible – are a waste of time and energy.
And it tilts away with the sense of confidence you hope to create.  If you as leader want to be trusted, you must first trust the people you lead.
Only then will they regain sentiment.
The opinions expressed here by the Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.